Eduvation Blog

Post-COVID Scenario Planning

Good morning!

The good news is, you’re already in the home stretch of this short week. Personally, I’m excited to be speaking (virtually) with the Senate and Board of Wilfrid Laurier U tonight, about future-readiness in our rapidly evolving context.

Since yesterday, more of the same… another dozen cases in Quebec due to a single student party. Another 100 cases in BC. On day 2, a school case in Manitoba. One student tests positive at Briercrest, and 2 at Durham. More school bus driver shortages. And Toronto pushes back the start of high school 2 weeks. Alberta premier Jason Kenney doesn’t want to “micromanage” businesses, and the Trump administration wants to get rid of “COVID theatre” in airports. (Sigh)

In the US, >70,000 school-aged children have come down with COVID19 in the past 2 weeks, and at least 4 teachers have died. uGeorgia reports >1,400 MORE infections this week, bringing their total to 2,600. Bradley U in Peoria Illinois has quarantined 100% of its student body after 50 cases were detected. In Pennsylvania, a 20-year-old college football player has died from COVID19 complications. And a 46-year-old college prof in Buenos Aires collapsed and died from COVID19 while delivering an online class. The global death toll of COVID19 has now surpassed 900,000.

In Canada, many institutions have expressed support for profs who are halfway through a 2-day Scholar Strike to protest police brutality, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. Converging social justice movements – including #BLM, Indigenous reconciliation, and #MeToo – are gradually reshaping global awareness and, hopefully, our future society. (Much more can be said, but I will leave it to more appropriate spokespeople.)

Continuing the theme of PSE Post-COVID, today I’ll summarize some predictions for higher ed’s “new normal” from a dozen experts and a global survey of 7,000 learners, and dive into future scenario planning. (We’re starting to get to the really thought-provoking part of this series, I think!)

But first, some recent developments that may shape the course and severity of the pandemic…

Virus Updates

Scientific understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID19 disease it causes is evolving rapidly, affecting the trajectory of the pandemic and its impact on PSE. We’ve seen changes in the understanding of asymptomatic and aerosol transmission, fomites, immunity, and the long-term risks for healthy young people. Here are a few more developments from the past few weeks…

Leading Vaccine Trial on Hold

The leading contender in the race for a COVID19 vaccine, from Oxford and AstraZeneca, was suspended Tuesday pending a safety review after one participant contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. Prospects for a fast-tracked roll-out of the vaccine faded, and AZ’s stock fell 8% in after-hours trading.  Reuters

A Dog, a Bat, a Mouse, a Cat…

(With apologies to Shakespeare.) COVID19 is believed to be a zoonotic virus, originating in bats or pangolins. There have been cases of cats, dogs, lions, tigers and mink contracting the virus, although their potential role in transmission is considered minor. (Although maybe cats catch it more often than we thought.) Now, 2 new studies (from Colorado State and uManitoba) have found that deer mice, North America’s “most abundant mammal,” can indeed catch and spread COVID19 – raising the distant possibility that they could become a reservoir for the virus, even if humans achieve herd immunity. On the upside, it means they will also make good lab rats to study COVID19 treatments.  Washington Post

Smoking, Vaping a Serious Risk

Medical experts have warned for months that the scarred lungs of smokers and vapers may be particularly vulnerable to COVID19. Several studies have concluded that smoking more than doubles the risk of severe COVID19 symptoms. Now, a study has found that young adults who vape are 5x more likely to receive a COVID diagnosis. (In the US, >5 million middle and high-school students report using vapes.)  New York Times

A New Culprit Suspected

Early in the pandemic, doctors theorized that a cytokine storm (an overproduction of cytokines to mount an immune response) could explain some of the worst COVID19 cases. Since July, however, a new culprit is increasingly suspected: bradykinin (another immune peptide). Further confirmation is needed, but several clinical trials have begun using already-approved drugs that might be able to defeat the most serious COVID19 symptoms.  The Scientist

Cross your fingers! But then again…

Science Sidetracked by Media

In the breakneck global rush to find safe and effective COVID19 vaccines and treatments, scientists assure usthey are not cutting corners – but the media frenzy around every little finding and preprint study is sparking premature decisions by ethics boards and funding agencies. In June, findings that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir had no measurable effect on hospitalized COVID19 patients resulted in the termination of “dozens if not hundreds” of other studies, many of which were testing the drugs’ effectiveness in treating much milder cases, or as a preventative. Misinterpreting trial data is having “disastrous” implications for the scientific method.  National Post

“Never before have we seen a medical scenario become such a public topic, where you have the president of the United States and the president of other countries weighing in on whether a drug works or not. And then you have the public weighing in on whether they agree with that individual, based on their own politics. This is unheard-of.” – Edward Mills, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster U


Predicting the New Normal

Sometimes crowdsourced answers are superior to one expert’s opinion, while other times the outlier shows us the best way forward…

Post-Secondary Post-COVID

A dozen experts predict how higher ed will be changed 2 years from now (or whenever the pandemic is done). PSE will make more sophisticated use of online tools to personalize independent and collaborative learning, while also maximizing the unique affordances of F2F campus interactions. Campus facilities will start incorporating architectural and ventilation improvements to boost resilience to contagion. Academic programs and delivery models will evolve specifically to support upskilling and reskilling unprecedented numbers of displaced workers, with modular, accelerated and stackable microcredentials, and flexible continuing education. Students of all ages will demand more work experience and career coaching. Heightened awareness of the challenges faced by marginalized members of our society will result in renewed efforts to support equity, diversity and inclusion and encourage and support PSE participation among at-risk groups. One key will be more affordable, widespread broadband internet access, particularly in rural and remote communities. First Policy Response

Expectations for Transformation

According to 7,000 learners in 7 countries, “there is no returning to a pre-COVID19 education world.” Let me pull out some Canada-specific results. 82% of Canadians expect higher ed to fundamentally change, although 86% think “colleges and universities need to adapt faster to the needs of today’s students.” Post-COVID, 80% of Canadians think fewer students will study abroad, 72% think fewer people can afford PSE, and 62% think fewer people will seek out traditional degrees. In fact, 44% of Canadians say “you can do okay in life today” without any PSE, and 72% believe a college credential is “more likely to result in a good job with career prospects than a university degree.” 88% think universities should offer shorter cycle, lower-cost options for displaced workers. The public believes online learning is “here to stay,” but learners want better technology and a better experience. 83% of Canadians believe more PSE students will study virtually within 10 years, although 63% think education institutions are “less effective at using technology than other industries.”  Pearson


Scenario Planning

A key arrow in the futurist’s quiver is scenario planning, particularly when we’re facing a volatile, unpredictable few years…

Scenario Planning in Uncertainty

Much remains uncertain about COVID19’s transmission, the potential of a vaccine, the duration of border closures, economic recession and depressed international student mobility. WHO and PHO orders and guidance are shifting almost as quickly as the daily infection numbers. In times of radical uncertainty and ambiguity, it is critical for institutional leaders to map out many potential scenarios and consider risks and possible responses, to avoid “disjointed impulsivity… in crisis mode.” It helps us remove our blinders, consider multiple eventualities, overcome optimistic bias, and avoid underpredicting or overpredicting change. Consider underlying forces shaping the future, and how they may interact. Clarify your assumptions and then challenge them. Look for strategic responses that span multiple scenarios: these are often your best bets.  Forbes

“[In scenario planning] you build one model where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird.” – Steven Johnson, author of Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most


Asking the Right Questions

Decision-making processes can break down in the face of heightened uncertainty, resulting in either fear-based paralysis or biased reactions. We are confronted with data that “looks actionable” but is in fact incomplete and constantly evolving. Salient data may disproportionately capture our attention; contextual data may need to be reframed; and the appearance of patterns in random data may not have predictive value. Focus on determining what information you need most, in order to make decisions.  Harvard Business Review

4 Post-COVID Scenarios for PSE

In mid-April, Deloitte consultants proposed 4 hypothetical scenarios for higher ed in 3-5 years, considering trends already in motion and sector uncertainties:

The “Passing Storm” scenario heightens inequities among students and institutions, with thousands forced to close or merge while the mega-universities grow. Poor experiences with emergency remote learning only serve to reinforce the appeal of traditional approaches, and the impact of COVID19 is similar to previous recessions: government funding drops and endowment returns decline. Incremental adoption of technologies and microcredentials occurs.

In the “Good Company” scenario, the pandemic persists and recovery takes until late 2022. Banks and multinationals step up to assist governments, fund workforce training and applied research, and define new credentials, often delivered by community colleges, private providers and mega-universities. International student mobility rebounds, although price sensitivity increases and the residential experience is increasingly regarded as a luxury. Some corporations acquire or build their own universities.

In the “Sunrise in the East” scenario, China and East Asian nations ramp up direct foreign investment and become primary global powers with rising PSE institutions, while Western governments struggle to subsidize lasting economic and social damage and cut support for institutions. Higher ed is “caught in the crossfire of anti-globalist and nationalist movements,” as anti-intellectual resentment rises. Several public university systems fail, while the strongest global brands with satellite campuses in Asia succeed.

In the “Lone Wolves” scenario, isolationist governments go it alone and increase surveillance during a prolonged, endless pandemic and lengthy recession. Calendar-driven PSE is untenable with rolling, unpredictable campus lockdowns. Advanced manufacturing booms as countries re-shore supply chains, and performing arts experience an unexpected resurgence. The earnings premium for degree grads shrinks for the first time, and government support drops to little or nothing. Class divides, protests and demonstrations intensify, tuition-dependent institutions are decimated, while elite “sanctuary” institutions wall themselves off from society in a pandemic bubble.

Regardless of scenario, PSE will need to assess finances, plan for resiliency, bolster relationships with the private sector, challenge orthodoxies, rethink operations, invest in digitization, and prioritize EDI. Institutions will need to revisit the academic portfolio, and “curate the student experience,” finding ways to preserve or adapt the in-person, residential modality. Deloitte

“The organization should set bold aspirations that represent a step change in performance, as typical, incremental aspirations will not be enough to deliver results in the next normal.” – McKinsey


Fall(ing) Enrolments Redux

Caveats & Corrections

Thanks to my faithful readers who have been in touch with more information about the preliminary enrolment announcements I shared yesterday.

Please bear in mind that, as I said, the data is partial, vague, preliminary and often tinged with rose-coloured optimism. It’s also reported in very inconsistent ways: ranging in date from June through September, based on actual enrolments or mere expectations, counting FTEs or headcounts, and talking about overall enrolment or just incoming new students. So it’s purely directional and suggestive, whether a school seems to be seeing upward or downward indicators.

That being said, mea culpa: I should have said that Humber College expected a 40% drop in “incoming international student intake” this fall. And apparently the numbers have been improving since the Toronto Star article last week, so even that is an overstatement of the drop.

Moreover, ALL are cautioning that there could be an unpredictable level of melt between now and the add/drop deadline, which for some institutions has been pushed into October. (We might be talking polar ice caps melt, or merely snowman in Canadian winter melt.) So I will definitely want to revisit the subject thoroughly once final census numbers get announced! Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for further insight into what’s happening as this historic year unfolds.

If you can add to the data or suggest some other interpretations, please add a comment on the blog page, or drop me a note.

CdnPSE Updates

A few more late arrivals for the enrolment summary…

Bow Valley College advises that international enrolments are down 65%, year-over-year.

uManitoba reports a 3.7% increase in overall enrolment this fall, due to a 1.4% increase in full-time students, and a 18.2% spike in part-time students. International enrolments are also up 7.5%. Undergrad credit hours are up 4.5%, and Distance/Online credit hours are up 29%. uManitoba

Memorial U reports that, although virtually all undergrads are studying online this fall, enrolment is “up by 500 over last semester.” (Does that mean the summer?) MUN is still projecting an $11M loss from Mar 2020 through Apr 2021, largely due to international declines. CBC

Thompson Rivers U projects a 30% decline in international enrolment this fall, and a 5% decline in domestic enrolment. The result will be a $45M decline in revenue for the 2020-21 fiscal year. TRU will draw from its accumulated surplus to bridge what will likely be a $9M deficit for the year, but will need to balance its 2021-22 budget. Kamloops this Week

And one more announcement about Winter 2021…

Mohawk College announced yesterday that it will continue with a combination of remote/virtual and F2F delivery through the Winter 2021 semester, as it is doing for fall.  Mohawk

And some late-breaking news…

York U has announced the winning name for its AI student virtual assistant: “SAVY” (drawn from 1,544 entries). Like most machine-learning natural language agents for campus services, it has been built on IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform.  York


Phew!  Thanks for making your way this far. I’ve been trying to keep this newsletter to about 1,500 words, but that was 2,500!

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with some intriguing thoughts about bold PSE strategies, unbundling, transformation and more.  Until then, be safe and stay well!


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please answer the question below to confirm that you are not a spambot * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

All contents copyright © 2014 Eduvation Inc. All rights reserved.