Industry Insights

CEO Keys – 2021 Predictions

01/03/21   |  
Keypath Education

Nobody could have predicted that 2020 would become the “you’re on mute” year. While future forecasting is always a roll of the dice, let’s look back at my predictions for 2020 and what actually happened, and then ahead for 2021.

The impact of COVID-19 on higher education has been profound; however, many of my 2020 predictions have still come to light. Admittedly, I was not predicting when the next Mars landing will be. Still, it is positive that many of the trends we saw at the end of 2019 were not disrupted by the global pandemic.  

Here’s a recap of my 2020 predictions:

#1.  Large employers will drive innovation in higher education. Whether it be opening their own corporate universities or certified training programs, or co-branding internal training programs with a partner university, indirect competition from businesses will push universities to enhance and expand their program offerings. The focus will be toward certificates and micro-credentials, delivering just-in-time skills training, upskilling employees.  

We saw many announcements of organisations like Facebook and Google offering career-focused certificates. This type of development increases competition for universities for their graduate certificate, short-course and micro-credential offerings. I see this an extension of the skills-based economy driven by the future of work. I imagine this trend will accelerate in 2021, due to increased unemployment driving demand for quick and reputable skills certification. 

#2.  Growth of healthcare-related programs - those leading to professional licensure, accreditation or certification - will continue to outpace all other programs to globally meet healthcare talent shortages. 

In the U.S., six of the top ten projected fastest-growing occupations from 2019-2029 are healthcare-related, with the Nurse Practitioner occupation taking the second top spot with a 52% growth projected by 2029. Similar trends appear for Australia, with healthcare and social assistance occupations making up the largest and fastest-growing industry in Australia. Most occupations in these areas require accredited or professional licensure qualifications from universities. The options to do these types of qualifications online from anywhere are growing.  

#3.  Online interdisciplinary degree programs will pick up steam in 2020 and snowball in the next 3 years. This will be driven by the growth in hybrid jobs.

Burning Glass released a Hybrid Jobs Report in 2019. While this is not a new trend, it has accelerated in 2020, as tech & data analytics skills have become a must-have instead of nice-to-have across all roles, functions and industries. 

#4. Due to increasing competition, tuition prices for business programs will continue to decline, and many more universities and colleges will drop their on-ground MBA to go exclusively online.

This trend is growing, particularly at universities in regional and remote areas. But the MBA story is about reputation. Premium brands are still able to charge full-freight, but for middle and lower-tier MBA’s, the competition continues to increase, fueling the need for product and price differentiation. 


As we look to 2021, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will be the primary driver of change to universities across the globe. I don't think the areas of change are new, however, but exaggerated and accelerated by the events of 2020. For example, increasing access to higher education via online, ensuring curriculum design evolves to deliver on the skills required for the future of work, and increasing the support for students' mental and physical health will be areas of significant focus for 2021 in higher education.  

Here are my three predictions for 2021

#1.  Nursing programs will continue to be among the fastest-growing programs – both qualifying programs like the ABSN, and programs that help already qualified nurses to upskill and specialize - as the demand for general registered nurses, and nurses with specialized skills will grow at unprecedented rates. Before Covid-19, the World Health Organization estimated that we will need an additional 9 million nurses worldwide by 2030 to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Health and Well-being. 

#2.  We will see an increased demand for programs delivering the skills and knowledge to work in mental health services. Across social work, counselling, psychology, and mental health nursing programs, 2020 has only increased the already under-supplied demand for qualified practitioners and services in these areas.  

#3.  The need for speed and digital will be prioritised. With unemployment in the U.S almost double today compared to February, and still requiring improvement in economies like Australia where they have returned to a COVID-normal state, the drive for re-skilling is paramount to economic recovery. The World Economic Forum called for a "re-skilling revolution” back in Jan 2020. Covid-19 has only increased the need for the global workforce to be re-skilled quickly via access to a wide range of high-quality, university accredited programs that deliver on the needs of the future of work. 

I know many universities have many macro challenges in front of them these coming months. We will continue to support the many staff, faculties, and students we work with, as we all navigate these uncharted waters in 2021. 

Be safe and be well

Steve Fireng, Global CEO