Pandemic Cuts Into Higher Ed IT Teams

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to decreasing numbers in the IT workforce at higher education institutions, according to a report from Educause, a nonprofit dedicated to improving higher education through IT.

The new report is based on a survey conducted in late 2021 of 276 senior IT leaders at higher education institutions. Most respondents to the survey said that a reduction in their IT workforce was often due to budget cuts.

Around 48 percent of respondents reported that the pandemic had “at least some effect on the size of the central IT workforce at their institution.” Forty-two percent said that in the 12 months prior to the survey, their IT organization got smaller. On the flip side, 26 percent responded that their IT organization grew.

“The pandemic has strained our university’s financial situation. There [have] been budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs, long (6–9 month) vacancy periods when positions do become vacant due to turnover, and frequently vacant positions are eliminated to reduce staffing expenses,” one respondent said.

Additionally, the report found many higher education employees left “to pursue remote work opportunities or higher-paying jobs.” Many IT units, meanwhile, are implementing more flexible work and hiring practices to retain staff or improve operations.

IT units that have not implemented flexible work practices, such as supporting telework, have seen signs of morale decreases, coupled with increases in employee resignations.

“IT has said for years that many of the functions of our positions could be [achieved] in fully remote positions,” one respondent said. “The pandemic has proven that we can be just as effective, if not even more effective, in our line of work in a remote setting.”

Even with an overall decrease in higher education IT workforce, 21 percent of respondents reported that the number of information security job functions at the institutions expanded in 2021. Remote work is the reason for this increase, respondents said.

“[There is] additional focus on IT security due to users and teachers being remote and using their own home computers,” one senior IT leader said.