COVID-19 will leave institutions as winners or losers - blog from Wahida Ashiq, founder of Great British Mag

Blog for members
24 April 2020
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The following is a guest blog post from Wahida Ashiq, the founder of Great British Mag - a digital magazine for international students in the UK.

Covid-19 will leave institutions as winners or losers

I won’t start this blog by reciting the dire figures we are all hearing about the drop in student numbers choosing to study abroad this year and the negative impact this will have on the sector, instead I want to focus on how institutions can use this period to build a brand that’s going to be fit for purpose in a post Covid-19 world in higher education.

It’s a safe assumption that parents will be nervous and even reluctant to send their child abroad, especially this year. Students will have questions about the quality of online teaching, if that’s what the sector offers at the start of the new academic year, and the ROI if they choose to study abroad in the aftermath of the virus.

However, I believe institutions can and should turn these challenges into opportunities and respond to students’ concerns head on, rather than pushing “we’ll be back to business as usual once Covid-19 is over”.

Given the predicted timelines for recovery - which Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford, puts at five years - there might be a temptation to batten down for the storm but I would argue this is the wrong approach because the perceived reputation of an institution is one of the most powerful components to how a student, and their parents, choose one university over another. And this is the silver lining, I believe, institutions can exploit right now.

By engaging in conversation and tackling the difficult questions. Showcasing how you have looked after your students and how your institution has successfully adapted to deliver the education and welfare your students deserve will give you a platform to speak to students and help you build on your current reputation and raise your profile in these difficult times.

Yes, students and parents will still be looking at rankings, student satisfaction surveys and graduate employment figures but they will also be looking at a new set of metrics that will include how the institution looks after their students and which ones go the extra mile to help their students navigate these choppy waters.

Every institution’s story will be different but each one will have something that they can hold up as best practice and this is what they should be shouting about right now, because time is of the essence.

Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive, now is the time to overhaul your international student experience, refresh the website, upscale your social media efforts and mobilise current international students to tell their stories and speak favourably, but authentically, about the institution.

However, it has to be said the sectors ability to bounce back sooner rather than later is also tied up in Government policy, how prospective students judge our treatment of the international student community through this crisis and the UK’s response to the virus, when compared to other key destinations for students.

Carmen Neghina, from Studyportal, highlights students are still showing an appetite to study overseas, with 72% of international students polled saying they were sticking to plans to study in Germany, which has seen fewer deaths and has been praised globally for their response to containing the virus. In comparison 65% of students polled still wanted to study in the UK.

Those institutions that want the first mover advantage need to mobilise now if they want to be front of mind when students are able to make a choice of where they want to study. Yes, leading has its risks and your plans will not be perfect, but it is much better to be visible and not have all the answers than to have all the answers but not be heard.

Along with engaging with existing and potential students in an authentic way institutions must acknowledge that the landscape has changed forever and understand those making the choice to study abroad will need more reassurances, more evidence that your institution is right for them and that the support they will need to succeed is there and operating at a high level.

In a nutshell, institutions that want to be the winners need to be brave, creative, empathetic and above all they need to be leading the new narrative.

Wahida Ashiq
founder of Great British Mag

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