Blog series #7: Investigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on higher education across borders

Dr. Jana Kleibert is a postdoc and junior group leader at the Leibniz-Institute for Research on Society and Space – IRS and does research on transnational higher education. In the seventh part of our blog interview series, she explains how offshore campuses of European universities have fared during the pandemic.

Name / Institute:

  • Jana Kleibert
  • IRS – Leibniz-Institute for Research on Society and Space, Erkner
  • Leibniz Section B

Research topic:

  • Economic Geographies of Globalization

Main featured instrument or technique:

  • Online surveys

“My research aims to map the consequences of the COVID pandemic on transnational education.”

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020? 

Since 2018 I have been investigating the changing global geographies of transnational education. Specifically, I wanted to understand the boom in universities’ foreign investments and the motivation for European universities to construct offshore campuses and the rationale for host governments in Southeast Asia and the Arab Gulf states to attract these investments. In particular, I have focused on their role in urban and economic development strategies.

What are the main findings of your work on COVID? Did the results surprise you? 

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, I applied for funding by the Regional Studies Association to investigate how the pandemic affects and changes the global geographies of offshore campuses. A key question has been how different ‘international education hubs’ are affected by the pandemic and how offshore campus managers have switched their strategies as a result. While the overwhelming share of respondents have been affected very strongly or strongly by the pandemic, I was surprised by the high level of optimism for the future of transnational education across the board. Several offshore campus managers see their campuses as fostering the resilience of their home institutions through geographic diversification. By teaching students, who otherwise would have out-migrated instead at offshore campuses in their home country, these students can receive international degrees despite travel restrictions. 

How has COVID affected your work life?

My research practice usually involves a lot of face-to-face engagement and travel. My main methodology is qualitative fieldwork. A key method I use are elite interviews, which require the co-presence of researcher and respondent to build trust and enable the sharing of more sensitive information. During the pandemic, I have not been able to conduct fieldwork but have had to switch to other techniques, including developing and conducting an online survey of campus managers globally.

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic? 

Generally, I find researching unfolding events fascinating and it is something economic geographers actually quite often engage in. The key issue for me is to always keep a distance from too sweeping explanations and hypes, but rather carefully analyze the emerging data with respect to how they relate to broader and longer-term (socio-economic) trends.

What would be the one take-home message of your research? 

Globalization of higher education is not over yet and digitization is not going to fully replace the need for physical university campuses. Instead, offshore campuses will most likely shift strategies and take on new roles.

How does your perfect day off work look like? 

Spent with family and friends, filled with good conversations and laughter. Preferably outdoors: hiking, biking and generally being offline.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Jana Kleibert for supporting our blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Jana Kleibert and her work:

Dr. Jana Kleibert’s research project on the website of the Regional Studies Association

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