How the cloud will support colleges and universities post-pandemic

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With in-person classes unlikely to resume in the fall, most institutions are pivoting to remote learning by leveraging public clouds

How the cloud will support colleges and universities post-pandemic
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Even before COVID-19, education technology experienced high growth, with global edtech investments reaching $18.66 billion in 2019. The overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

But these numbers are now being “reimagined.” Language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, on-demand courses, or online learning software—there has been a significant surge in remote-learning tech usage since COVID-19 began.

The challenge is that while a few colleges and universities have been slowly moving to remote learning, most have not invested in technology. Even those that made investments prior to the crisis have done so with a mix of expensive traditional and SaaS-based technology, not really leveraging the full potential of public cloud computing. Typically they also use traditional data centers for the notion of “security,” which is not necessarily a guarantee.

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There is an upside. Successful online transitions at universities and colleges are already appearing. For instance, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, was able to get more than 5,000 courses online in just two weeks using DingTalk ZJU, an on-demand education platform and app. The Imperial College London began offering a course on the science of coronavirus; it’s now the most-enrolled class launched in 2020 on Coursera.

The trouble is that despite a few successful examples of online learning, most colleges and universities are not as flush with resources and cash as the institutions with billion-dollar-plus endowments. This is not to mention those that have received government assistance.

Some schools are already in the red, and without the ability to transition to a remote learning model quickly to collect tuition, they will be toast very soon. Indeed, much like some undercapitalized small businesses worldwide, they may find themselves shuttering dorms, student unions, and halls—even universities that have existed for more than 100 years and have millions of alumni.

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As a part-time educator, both at the college and professional levels, I think this pivot may actually be a silver lining for higher education. I’ve been critical in the past of degrees costing more than $200K in student loans without the guarantee of return on that investment.

Higher education has been awaiting a chance to move to cheaper remote learning models, as some have done already. This could force other educational institutions to get off the fence and leverage public clouds as force multipliers to move to a virtual education model in months not years. If the investment is swift and purposeful, it’s not out of the question that they could move a great deal of their coursework to remote learning platforms by the fall, thanks to public cloud computing.

David Linthicum

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