Continuous Improvement

Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education in a Post-COVID-19 World

Higher education officials need to reimagine what colleges and universities will “look like” after the confusion of the pandemic passes, and why the times require, and support, innovation and entrepreneurship to guide higher education in the future.

”Every crisis seems epochal in the moment, when normal patterns of behavior are profoundly disrupted and normal patterns of policy are profoundly inadequate.” (Hans Brands, Peter Feaver, William Inboden, Covid-19 and World Order The Future of Conflict, Competition, and Cooperation)


The worldwide confusion and chaos unleased by COVID-19 has cast a bright light on the deep fissures not only among health protocols, economic inequality and international interdependence, but also on higher education’s inefficiencies and in some cases, antiquated educational delivery systems.

Pandemics are not the usual companions supporting higher education’s reverence for logic and reason. The dark alchemy of fear and uncertainty are walking the halls of many academic institutions worldwide. Viruses carry no passports and respect no borders. We are living in a world where norms are constantly unraveling around the edges.

Professor Steve Smith, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Exeter, put it best:
This crisis feels like no other. I honestly think it will change us, how we operate, teach, and do research forever.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines innovation as something new or different and entrepreneurship as managing an enterprise with considerable initiative and risk.

In the midst of its devastation, COVID-19 has also presented higher education officials with the opportunity to create new models for educational delivery in the future. At the intersection of disruption and unpredictability will emerge a new world order requiring a shift in perspective and thinking and demanding innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to higher education’s problems.

In his book, Thank You for Being Late, the New York Times columnist, Thomas Freedman quotes Lin Wells, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University, who describes three ways of looking at problems: inside a box, outside a box, or thinking “without a box.”

Now, more than ever, higher education needs innovators and entrepreneurs who as capable of doing what professor Wells suggests.

Impact of COVID-19 on higher education

It is with a cloudy lens that I predict the short-term and long-term impact of COVID-19 on higher education. The truth is we do not know for certain what the lasting residuals of the pandemic will be.

What we do know so far is that the pandemic has altered the way students are recruited, admitted, and enrolled, where and how students are taught, how and where faculty teach, and how classrooms are re-configured to insure the safety of students, faculty, and staff. We can predict with some certainty that blended learning will be part of a student’s educational experience as will be attending classes year-round.

The truth is we do not know for certain what the lasting residuals of the pandemic will be.

Five opportunities created by COVID-19 for innovators and entrepreneurs
In the post-pandemic era, higher education innovators and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to:

1. Replace strategic planning with vision planning
Having a vision for what a college or university will “look like” after COVID-19 is past history and replacing multi-year strategic plans with vision plans. Vision plans tell your audience why you do what you do. Strategic plans are the roadmap for carrying out your vision.

2. Create a vison planning committee
Convene a new committee with administrators who do not usually have a seat at the table, including: the career counselor and lifelong planning director, the director of research, the registrar, a researcher with expertise in consumer behavior, a health counselor and the director of disaster preparedness.

3. Offer year-long instruction
Online learning, along with in-person instruction, will define higher education in the future. The cancelling of in-person classes by most colleges and universities in the spring 2020 semester and some schools in the fall 2020 semester, illuminated the need for, and the wisdom of, including online instruction as part of all future educational delivery paradigms.

77% of people surveyed by Pearson in their Global Learner Survey believe that a percentage of future higher education students will always attend classes online.

4. Replace antiquated business models with differential pricing
There are numerous surveys (and lawsuits) revealing that families object to paying the same tuition for online learning and in-person instruction.

5. Change recruitment practices
College fairs, accepted student receptions, and traditional orientation programs that were cancelled in the spring 2020 and fall 2020 semesters will be replaced by year-long admission and acceptance practices and virtual fairs and receptions. Student enrollment choices have changed. Preliminary research has revealed that specific cohorts of students, for health and safety reasons, will opt to study closer to home. Malaysia, for example, is a leading student destination in Asia for many regional students as is South Africa for students from Africa.


”Moonshot thinking starts with picking a big problem, something huge, long existing, or on a global scale. Next it involves articulating a radical solution.” (Astro Teller, director, Google X)

Dates of destiny are always on time. COVID-19 has caused the world, including the higher education world, to press the pause button and with a critical eye scrutinize what it does and why. Whatever normal is built in the aftermath of COVID-19 will become the new normal. And each college and university will have to decide who will lead their caravan of necessary changes. Who will emerge as the entrepreneur to lead faculty and staff with innovative approaches to the work they do inside, and outside, the classroom?

”All change is loss and all loss requires mourning.“ (Harry Levinson, Harvard Business Review, 1972)

Higher education is on the cusp of transformative change. It will never be the same. No school will be immune to change.

In the months and years to come, as the residuals of the pandemic become more obvious and systemic, the colleges and universities that will not only survive but also thrive will be those who are led by innovators and entrepreneurs with a clear vision of what their schools do and why. They will have succeeded in replacing fear of change with the promise of change.

The French dubbed the decade after the 1918 pandemic the annees folles – the crazy years. Let’s hope the decade after the 2019 pandemic will be one of innovation and creativity, for the world and for higher education.


Austin, N. (2018, December 19) Global Online Education Market 2018. Apollo Education Group.

Blessinger, P. (2018, October 7) The shifting paradigm of higher education. University World News.

Calderon, A. (2018, June 22). The higher education landscape is changing fast. University World News.

Christensen, Clayton, M., and Eyring, H.J. (2011). The Innovative University. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dennis, M. J. (2018, February). International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder and Practical Recommendations for International Enrollment Managers, Deans and Recruiters. Old Post Books.

Dennis, M. J. (2018, May). Does your school need a chief innovation officer? Enrollment Management Report.

Dennis, M. J. (2020, April 25). Higher education opportunities in the time of COVID-19. University World News.

Dennis, M. J. (2020, June). Covid-19: The residuals. Enrollment Management Report. June 2020.

Dennis, M. J. (2021, January 19). Predictions for higher education worldwide for 2021. University World News.

Ferrara, M.S. (2015). Place of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Freedman, T. (2017). Thank You for Being Late. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Galloway, S. (2020). Post Corona from Crisis to Opportunity. New York: Penguin Random House.

Haass, R. (2017). A World in Disarray. New York: Penguin Press.

Marr, B. (2018, August 13). The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here- Are You Ready? Forbes.

Peters, M. (2019, January 18). In the age of AI, universities will need to rethink their purpose. University World News.

Redden, E. (2019, January 10). Global Higher Education in Changing Times. Inside Higher Education.

Rosling, H., Rosling, O., and Rosling Ronnlund, A. (2018). Factfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. New York: Flatiron Books.

Seldon, Sir Anthony (2018, October 22). What will universities be like in the future? eCampus News.

Tombs, R. (2017, July 16). The Age of Volatility. New Statesman.


Innovation entrepreneurship creativity leadership reimagined

About the author

Marguerite J. Dennis
Member, Society of Transnational Academic Researchers

Marguerite J. Dennis is an internationally recognized expert on higher education admission, financing, retention, and international student mobility. She is the author of six books on higher education administration, two books on international higher education, and more than 200 articles on higher education. The author serves as a consultant to colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the author has conducted numerous webinars and seminars on the reimagined university.

LinkedIn Profile

Image References

titovailona @envato