Cara Skikne

Market opportunities in online education 


In the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis, many higher education institutions are evaluating methods of education that are compatible with the mandate of ‘social distancing’ and travel bans. Due to the global outbreak, thousands of education institutions suddenly want to make the jump to digital classrooms, rather than the in-person lecture halls.

It is important to note that not just higher education institutions are looking at these methods, but also students across the entire world. Figure 1 shows the percentage of Studyportals traffic that went to online programmes, as opposed to on-campus or blended programmes, across all portals in 2020 and 2019.

Since the middle of March, the share of page views that online programmes received went up drastically; on 29 March 2020, the interest in online Bachelor’s was 15%, online Master’s 17% and online Short Courses 66%. On the same date in 2019, this was 5% for Bachelor’s, 10% for Master’s and 49% for Short Courses. That means interest right now is between one-and-a-half to twice as high as last year!

Figure 1: Relative interest in online education, compared to other methods of teaching for Bachelorsportal, Mastersportal and Shortcoursesportal, in 2020 and 2019 

Of course, the demand is only half the story, the other half is the supply, i.e. the offering from institutions. After all, if there is an overabundance of online programmes, higher education institutions will struggle to fill their digital classroom seats anyway. Luckily, this is not the case, as shown in Figure 2, which shows the demand from students and supply across methods of teaching in the period of March 2019 to February 2020. In this figure the relative demand in page views (vertical bars) is compared to the relative supply in programmes (dark horizontal lines) and the market opportunity (colour and number), expressed as the ratio between the demand and supply are shown. If there is more demand than supply, the number is above 1.0 and the bar is green, if there is more supply than demand the number is below 1.0 and the bar is red. If the two are roughly equal, then the number is around 1.0 and the bar is yellow.

As visible from Figure 2, the vast majority of programmes on Bachelorsportal and Mastersportal are on-campus, with only a minority having online or blended options. In both cases however, there is far more demand than supply, especially for Bachelor’s. This means there is plenty of market opportunity for new programmes offered online.

In the case of Shortcoursesportal, things are a bit different however, almost half of all short courses are offered online, but these draw a bit more than half of the demand. As such, the market is relatively saturated. As such, if you are interested in launching an online short course, it is important to find the right discipline.

Figure 2: Relative demand and supply ratios across methods of teaching for Bachelorsportal, Mastersportal and Shortcoursesportal 

Figure 3 below shows the relative demand in page views and the relative supply in programmes, as well as the ratio between the two, across disciplines of study for online and on-campus programmes on Bachelorsportal (blended programmes have been omitted due to their low number). There are strong differences in which disciplines have a good market opportunity in the online and on-campus arena. For online programmes, many of the disciplines are rather saturated, with Engineering & Technology, Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Arts, Design & Architecture, Environmental Studies & Earth Sciences, Hospitality, Leisure & Sports and Agriculture & Forestry having more demand than supply. 

Of these, only Engineering & Technology and Hospitality, Leisure & Sports are strongly positive in the on-campus arena.  

Figure 3: Relative demand and supply ratios across disciplines for online and on-campus programmes on Bachelorsportal

Figure 4 shows the same analysis for Mastersportal. For online Master’s, there is significantly more demand than supply for Law, Arts, Design & Architecture, Business & Management, Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Computer Science & IT and Agriculture & Forestry.  

Similar to Bachelor’s, the differences are quite strong between online and on-campus; for on-campus programmes, only the disciplines of Business & Management and Computer Science & IT overlap with online programmes.   

Figure 4: Relative demand and supply ratios across disciplines for online and on-campus programmes on Mastersportal

Figure 5 shows the demand and supply across different disciplines for Shortcoursesportal. The disciplines of Hospitality, Leisure & Sports, Law, Agriculture & Forestry, Medicine & Health, Engineering & Technology, Education & Training, Arts, Design & Architecture and Applied Sciences & Professions have significantly more demand than supply.  

In the on-campus arena, the overlapping positive disciplines are Medicine & Health, Hospitality, Leisure & Sports, Law and Agriculture & Forestry.  

Figure 5: Relative demand and supply ratios across disciplines for online and on-campus programmes on Shortcoursesportal

In conclusion, the market is ready for more online Bachelor’s, Master’s and Short courses, especially certain disciplines. That is not to say there are no opportunities at all in fields that are have more supply than demand, but it might take bigger investments to be successful! In this article, we only looked at the 15 parent disciplines of Studyportals. These split up further into over 200 sub-disciplines. In many cases, there is room for more programmes in the more niche sub-disciplines.  

For example, on Bachelorsportal, the market for online Social Sciences programmes is relatively saturated. However, the sub-disciplines of Psychology and International Relations have far more demand than supply, indicating good opportunities for more specialized (new) Bachelor’s. 

If you are interested in similar insights for your specific country, specific sub-disciplines, certain recruitment regions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

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