Higher ed sector likely to suffer “long COVID”

Australia’s international border has begun to reopen, but the Australian higher education sector may continue to experience impact from the COVID-19 pandemic for many years to come, according to a newly-published report by Wells Advisory for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

The timing of border reopening is just one of a number of factors likely to affect recovery in international student enrolments and revenue, the “Forward Impact” report has found. The report can be downloaded from the TEQSA website

Ongoing uncertainty about visa availability, vaccination and quarantine requirements, and changes to course structure and delivery modes are also likely to affect student uptake of on-campus offerings in Australia; some students are already choosing other international education destinations, the report notes. Even with reopening of borders and resumption of travel in 2022, the overall volume of international students will have fallen by 25-30 per cent compared with 2019, and declines may extend into the 2024 academic year, modeling suggests.

“It’s not simply a matter of when borders are open again,” explains Michael J. Wells, Founding Director of Wells Advisory. “Students considering on-campus education in Australia in 2024 will need to be confident that everything is in place by late 2022 or they will look elsewhere.”

The rapid switch to online course delivery for students already enrolled has been associated with lower student satisfaction, as compared to the on-campus and in-person experience. The Wells Advisory report warns that declining satisfaction levels pose an increased risk for institutions and for the sector, further complicating the road to recovery.

Structural changes in the sector and “hybrid” models – combining online, offshore, and third-party delivery – also carry increased risks for the quality of Australian higher education with consequent impact on student demand and the reputation of the sector. The report notes several important implications for policy makers and regulatory agencies.

Wells Advisory is a leading independent consultant to the higher education sector, and the “Forward Impact” report demonstrates not only the firm’s deep sector knowledge and expertise but also its ability to integrate regulatory, economic, and business perspectives when framing strategic analysis and advice.