The IT workforce at higher education institutions decreased in size during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from Educause, a nonprofit aimed at improving higher education through IT.

The report captures results of a survey conducted in October 2021 of 267 senior IT leaders at higher education institutions. According to the report, most respondents reported a reduction in their IT workforce as a result of the pandemic – often due to budget cuts.

Nearly half of respondents – 48 percent – reported that since it began, the pandemic has had “at least some effect on the size of the central IT workforce at their institution.” Forty-two percent of respondents reported that in the 12 months prior to the survey, their IT organization got smaller. Just 26 percent of respondents indicated that their IT organization grew in that time.

“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.

The report also found that many higher education employees left “to pursue remote work opportunities or higher-paying jobs.” Additionally, many IT units are implementing more flexible work and hiring practices in an effort to either retain staff or improve operations.

Those IT units that have not implemented flexible work practices, such as supporting remote work, have seen decreases in morale and increases in 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.”

Despite a decrease overall in the higher education IT workforce, 21 percent of respondents said the number of information security job functions at their institutions grew in 2021. Respondents said remote work is to thank for this increase.

“[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.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.