• Schools that invested in digital technology are proving to be more agile and resilient during COVID-19.
  • The education system has made a significant shift during the current pandemic and may never return to what it once was.
  • Here are five key trends on movements within the higher education system, including connection, trust and wellbeing.

Higher education has gone through tremendous change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the face of uncertainty, it’s become evident that institutions with prior investment in digital technologies are emerging more agile and resilient. For example, online communities have helped 30% of students feel more connected with other students during this time.

Below we look at key data from the Global Higher Education Research Snapshot from Salesforce.org—in partnership with market research firm Ipsos—which reflects the new attitudes and priorities of 2,200 students and higher education staff worldwide.

To understand the shifting landscape across higher education, the survey explores five key trends: connection, trust, wellbeing, flexibility, and career.

1. Communications help students feel connected

In a typically isolating time, 75% of students wanted to receive weekly (or even more frequent) pandemic-related updates.

Why? These consistent communications from institutions actually help students feel more close and connected than in previous years.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education communication
79% of students believed they belong at their institution.
Image: Salesforce.org

This valuable sense of belonging is increasingly happening through online communities and other digital channels, but institutions have significant room left to grow in this area.

2. Has the pandemic fractured trust?

The pandemic has worsened existing trust gaps that exist between university leadership, students, and staff. Part of this may be due to a lack of resources provided during imposed COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education trust fear
50% of staff think COVID-19 has widened the trust gap.
Image: Salesforce.org

From personal protective equipment such as masks/hand sanitizer to transparent COVID-19 response plans, students also expect a myriad of resources from their universities to help put them at ease.

3. Juggling wellbeing concerns

Months of lockdowns and persistent social distancing have understandably shaken up students’ university experiences.

This is further compounded by various well-being challenges, from financial anxieties to juggling familial responsibilities.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education wellbeing concerns
Maintaining personal wellbeing is one of the biggest fears for students around the world.
Image: Salesforce.org

On the bright side, such demand creates an opportunity for institutions to provide more tailored well-being support through digital-first channels.

4. Students are drawn to online learning

As the pandemic seemingly creates new challenges by the day, many students are seeking more flexible options for when and how they learn.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education online learning
35% of students think universities should be more flexible around grading and assignments.
Image: Salesforce.org

The good news? There’s already evidence of this shift. Over half (57%) of staff say their institutions are investing in new modalities or revenue streams to attract new students, including more flexible learning options.

5. Uncertainties remain around future plans

Economic changes are causing over half (51%) of students to reconsider their education plans. In addition, of the staff that expect to see an increase in adult learners’ enrollment, a majority believe it will come from pandemic-influenced needs to reskill or upskill in this climate.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education future plans career
43% of staff feel they need to upskill following from the pandemic.
Image: Salesforce.org

This uncertainty also affects students’ future plans—60% are concerned about finding employment after graduation. They want to be set up for career success in all areas, yet only a handful of them have the appropriate resources available.

How the trends intersect

These above trends aren’t disparate to the student and staff experience. Rather, they are intricately linked with one another, as the following question illustrates.

COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic higher education institution actions plan
Communication is the biggest expectation on institutions.
Image: Salesforce.org

The pandemic has reshaped expectations of higher education—but it’s also created an opportunity for institutions to accelerate their digital transformation.

By providing more wellbeing resources, career support, and flexibility, universities can drive trust and support their students’ needs in the new normal.