Where next for tertiary education?

How the COVID-19 crisis can be the catalyst to reboot a stronger education sector

We examine the nine forces of change that may shape the post COVID-19 world and the tertiary education sector's response

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COVID-19 has and will continue to change the world.

The hard part for any government or organisation is to understand what happens the day after tomorrow, what the exit points are for this crisis, and what it means for the tertiary education sector in a post-COVID-19 economy.

Tertiary education providers play an integral role in the fabric of Australian society and culture and are a stimulus for innovation and creativity which underpin the economy. The Australian tertiary education sector generates almost $30bn of export income, employs more than 250,000 people, has greater than 4 million enrolments and is the nation’s third largest export.

The recovery from COVID-19 will present a significant opportunity for the tertiary education sector to support the reskilling of Australians and accelerate the recovery. There will be major growth opportunities across digital education, stackable micro credentials and increased demand in many areas including health and wellness, digital, agriculture and logistics.

However, the sector is also experiencing significant financial challenges with estimates of the 2020 loss of international student income as high as $4 billion with significant indirect economic impacts (e.g. tourism, consumer spending). The impact will be multi-year and extend beyond GDP and jobs into future innovation, technological and medical breakthroughs (e.g. COVID-19 vaccine) and therefore the national interest. 

These challenges will affect the ability of providers to deliver on their multiple purposes and potentially constrain their national contribution with Universities Australia estimating that for every $1 invested in higher education research, $5 is returned to GDP.

The speed of recovery, as this paper outlines, can be accelerated through the choices made by both governments and providers. The recovery will not be immediate but there is an opportunity for growth and to reframe the role of tertiary education. With a global tertiary education market of greater than 1 billion students, there is an opportunity for the nation’s tertiary providers to gain global market share and take a prominent role in leading the national recovery.

PwC Australia has identified nine forces of change that may shape the post COVID-19 recovery phase of the Australian economy and the tertiary education sector’s response. The nine forces have been informed by discussions with industry leaders and sector experts.

This snapshot from PwC Australia aims to provide clarity for tertiary education executives who are looking to make serious choices now and in the next two years about their institutions and services in a post COVID-19 Australia.

Government Matters

Government Matters is PwC's government-focused publication. This publication  will showcase the incredible work that both politicians and public servants are doing in this country to deliver value to citizens. 

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David Sacks

Government and Public Sector Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 3 8603 6151

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