Academia During COVID-19 and Beyond

The coronavirus pandemic greatly disrupted every aspect of the economy with the analytical instrumentation market being no exception. From new system sales to consumables, nearly every product type and end market for analytical instrumentation was negatively impacted by the pandemic, although some key technologies for the fight against COVID-19 saw a paradoxical boom. One of the largest end markets for analytical instrumentation in 2020 was academia. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, growth for academia was mixed. Academic budgets are often the first to be cut from national government spending, making long-term funding uncertain at best and axed at worst. Also, prior to the pandemic, enrollment trends were mixed depending on the region. In the United States, enrollment has been slowly declining since 2011, while in India and China, enrollment has been steadily increasing in the same time period, particularly in STEM fields. Across the United States and Europe, universities and related research labs are well-established institutions with years of historical support behind them. Meanwhile, across Asia, particularly in China, many universities have sprung up in recent years with government support to meet the growing demand for higher education and research.

The pandemic proved to be a great challenge to academia across the board. From limiting the number of students and professors allowed in research labs to completely forgoing in-person instruction and research, academia has had to swiftly shift gears in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With the development of several different coronavirus vaccines in late 2020, the pandemic appears to be at its tail end. Despite this, academia still faces several challenges to growth for the analytical instrumentation market in the coming years.

During the Great Recession, enrollment peaked in 2011 in the United States, as a poor economy and job prospects drove many back to school to pursue further education or change careers. With the coronavirus pandemic causing similar levels of economic uncertainty and unemployment, many look to 2021 and beyond as growth years for university enrollment. With more students paying tuition, university departments could then look towards investing in newer instrumentation or upgrading other aspects of their laboratories. While higher enrollment during times of economic uncertainty has been the historical trend, changes in technology make this trend more uncertain for the future.

Distance learning has become a major key to education over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.  Virtual classrooms and virtual labs have become the norm for the majority of students throughout the 2020 school year. While these distance learning solutions were not a completely adequate substitute for in-person laboratory education conducted in labs, they were able to provide an adequate alternative to the majority of the student population enrolled. Should distance learning remain a key part of instruction in 2021 and beyond, the on-campus support and funding for in-person research could see a decline. On the other hand, remote operation features of instrumentation have also helped the research (as opposed to educational) activities of academic labs to move forward, even though staff may be limited in the lab. The increased flexibility and automation driven by the pandemic will provide future benefits to laboratory throughput in the longer term. These productivity gains will not be discarded when the pandemic is over.

The rate of vaccination across the United States and Europe was very slow across the early part of 2020, and a slow vaccine rollout could prove to be a challenge for academia through 2021 and beyond. University operation through 2020 was already mixed, ranging from completely distanced learning to limiting the number of students in classrooms and labs. A slow vaccine rollout has only complicated matters. With administrators struggling to allocate the proper number of resources, professors unable to properly plan and supervise classes and labs, and students uncertain about the form of education moving forward, students choosing to defer admission to university by a year has become a popular option.

In all, academia certainly faces a number of uncertainties and challenges moving forward in the coming years. With academia and many other end markets facing changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, detailed information about the analytical instrumentation market is crucial for the next several years. For an in-depth look at academia and other key end markets for analytical instrumentation, please consult the SDi 2021 Global Assessment Report which covers 83 different analytical technologies and includes vendor participation, market share, and segmentation by product type, region, end market, lab function, and application.