COVID-19 and the neo-liberal paradigm in higher education: Changing landscape

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - This article aims to provide a timely examination of and reflection on the impact of COVID-19 on the neo-liberal paradigm that has been prevalent in international higher education (HE) for two decades since the late 1990s.
Design/methodology/approach - Methodologically, this paper deploys conceptual mapping as an analytical tool to explore and examine the global news updates that provide timely (i.e. early 2020) record of the fast-moving pandemic.
Findings - It unfolds four pairs of contradictions occurring in the Western universities during the pandemic outbreak, i.e. HE as cross-border services vs border control, the state's shrinking public funding vs universities under financial threat, increased reliance on foreign students' tuition fee vs decreased international enrolment and the user-pays philosophy vs the rising force of user says.
Research limitations/implications - It is argued that the pending crises facing Western universities are not merely financial issues; they reveal the shortcomings that are inherent in business model of HE driven by economic globalisation but triggered by coronavirus pandemic to erupt. The pandemic should be temporary, but its spill-over effects may alter the overarching landscape of the international HE relations, which is part and parcel of the changing geopolitical order featured as de-globalisation.
Practical implications - The paper has practical implications for acting on international HE in the time of coronavirus pandemic. They mainly consider four aspects: (1) travel distance as new determinant of study abroad, (2) the renewed significance of a state's role in policymaking and financial undertaking, (3) shortcomings in market mechanism and (4) East Asia as an emerging regional hub of study abroad.
Social implications - This paper is expected to leverage three lessons learned from the upending situation. First, it is conceptually misleading to define international HE as a form of market-led “transnational service” and cross-border tradeable product undermining a state's control. Second, a state's supervising model needs to be reviewed, to embrace the renewed relationship between a state and universities in the new context of global pandemic. Third, the global landscape of international HE may be altered.
Originality/value - This conceptual paper provides a timely critique of the neo-liberal paradigm in HE and shedding light on the changing global landscape of international HE along with the changing geopolitical relations reshuffled by COVID-19 and its spill-over effects. Copyright © 2020 Emerald Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-335
JournalAsian Education and Development Studies
Issue number2
Early online date09 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Pan, S. (2021). COVID-19 and the neo-liberal paradigm in higher education: Changing landscape. Asian Education and Development Studies, 10(2), 322-335. doi: 10.1108/AEDS-06-2020-0129


  • COVID-19
  • Neo-liberalism
  • Higher education
  • International student mobility


Dive into the research topics of 'COVID-19 and the neo-liberal paradigm in higher education: Changing landscape'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.