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COVID-19 - The Residuals

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines residual as that which remains.

This is not an article about the 300 million people worldwide who are not in workplaces or classrooms because of COVID-19. This is not an article about locked down cities, overwhelmed medical facilities, stock market declines, travel plans in tatters or cancelled conferences, sporting events, and concerts.

This is an article that will attempt to calculate what the worldwide economic and higher education landscape will look like after the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated; what remains.

The lens through which I look is cloudy, at best. Disruptions and upheavals are not the usual companions of logic and reason. And the dark alchemy of fear and unpredictability walk the halls of corporations and universities alike making it difficult, no impossible, to predict with precision what remains.

Recognizing that it is unwise to make predictions about the future, I nevertheless believe there are at least five residuals that will remain after COVID-19 is no longer a major threat to human life and an economic and education disrupter.

They are:

No. 1 / Supply Chains

For both goods and internationally mobile students, these have been disrupted and will require diversification in the future. About 5 million companies worldwide have Chinese suppliers, according to the data company, Dun & Bradstreet. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility Expert Witness: MJ Dennis Consulting
of overreliance on Chinese suppliers. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as many Japanese companies, are actively seeking to diversify their supply chain away from China to other countries.

Colleges and universities worldwide, especially those in countries heavily dependent on Chinese student enrollments, like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, can no longer expect Chinese students to enroll in the numbers they have for decades.

According to the Institute of International Education, three-quarters of American colleges and universities have reported the negative impact of COVID-19 on recruitment this year. It is important to keep in mind that 370,000 students, or 33.7% of America’s total international students, are from China.

Decreased enrollment of Chinese students has already impacted the economies of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Conversely, the Chinese master plan to become the #1 importer of international students is in question. University deans and recruiters will be hard pressed to recommend, without reservation, future exchange programs on Chinese campuses. In a survey of more than 2,000 students from Africa, Asia, and Australia, conducted by QS, nearly 3 in 10 said their plans had changed due to the virus. It is impossible to estimate what percentage of the students responding to this survey would have studied in China.

No. 2 / On-line Learning

The list is too long and changes daily of the number of colleges and universities worldwide that have suspended, or ended, in-person instruction and replaced it with on-line teaching.

The wisdom and necessity of increased on-line and massive open online course learning options can no longer be denied. Presidents, vice-chancellors, provosts, and academic deans will be forced to re-consider what part of their educational delivery will be offered in person and what part will be offered on-line.

No. 3 / Recruitment and Admission Practices

Across Asia, entrance examinations have been delayed which will eventually affect the 2020 fall intake of first-year students. In Japan, schools have been ordered to stay closed until mid-April, and Hong Kong has suspended classes until late April. China’s cancellation of SAT, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT examinations will impact future undergraduate and graduate school enrollment in the United States for the fall semester.

Admission deans and recruiters in the future will embrace on-line outreach to prospective students. Flexible application deadlines and a review of qualifying credentials will require re-evaluation of current recruitment and admission practices.

Algorithms, used to calculate expected yields of accepted students, may no longer be valid. College fairs, accepted student receptions and traditional orientation programs may no longer be possible.

Nunzio Quacquarelli, QS’s Chief Executive Officer, stated: “The global higher education sector should aim to be flexible on application deadlines and delayed start dates.”

No. 4 / Travel

Most companies and colleges and universities have banned all non-essential travel for employees. Teleconferencing opportunities will partially replace long distance travel as both faculty and administrators re-evaluate recruitment travel and attendance at academic conferences.

No. 5 / Enrollment Choices

Specific cohorts of students will opt to study closer to home. According to a report published by QS, prospective Asian students may increasingly look to intra-regional universities. Spencer Hawkes, director of special projects, told The Pie News, “I think there is a clear trend that more Asian students will look to study in Asia. This is happening already.” Currently, Malaysia is the leading study destination in Asia.

Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, told The Pie News, that a significant number of students are exploring study options in Malaysia, Korea and Singapore.


We live in a world where norms are constantly unraveling around the edges. At the intersection of disruption and unpredictability will emerge a new model for the world’s economy and for higher education. COVID-19 has created a new world order requiring a shift in perspective and necessitating thinking in different ways. For heads of state and corporate global leaders, as well as higher education administrators, a shifting perspective will hopefully encourage different perspectives and eventually encourage re-alignment of markets and students.

There are several opportunities that will also be residuals from COVID-19. But that’s another article with a different lens.

“In 1665, Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Issac Newton decided to work from home. He discovered calculus & the laws of motion. Just saying.” - Paddy Cosgrove, Chief Executive of Web Summit

Marguerite J. Dennis has served as a higher education administrator for 30 years, at St. John’s University in New York, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and Suffolk University in Boston.

Copyright MJ Dennis Consulting

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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