Archaeology and other university courses that require students to attend in-person classes could decline in popularity in the post-Covid world.
The claim was made in an online discussion among UAE academics about how higher education could change in the wake of the pandemic.
John Hatzadony, assistant professor and chairman of the Homeland Security Programme at Rabdan Academy in Abu Dhabi, said the future of university education would depend on the world’s recovery from the outbreak.
“Certain degrees that require a physical presence, such as archaeology or biology, will be eclipsed by degrees that can be done online,” he said.
Mr Hatzadony was speaking at a webinar co-hosted by Abu Dhabi School of Government and Rabdan Academy, which specialises in safety, security, defence, emergency readiness and crisis management.
It heard how the pandemic had accelerated an emerging trend in education - the rise of e-learning - which will continue to persist after the coronavirus.
“Covid-19 fostered a major transformation that had been ongoing,” said Dr Susanna Karakhanyan, higher education policy and regulation director, Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge.
“Currently, uncertainty is the only certainty. And we have to think of how to be ready for this.”
Mr Hatzadony said western universities, which have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic, could continue to come under pressure.
“Western universities will be under severe strain due to budget deficits,” he said.
“For that reason, universities will most likely opt to decrease labour costs."
That could result in online classes being taught all over the world, delivered by professors via laptops "at a fraction of the original cost".
Foreign state-funded institutions could also witness a decline in government support, leading to a "de-emphasising of arts and humanities, having an ultimate cultural and societal impact," he added.
Universities could offer joint degrees to survive tough times.
And several could disappear off the map altogether, he said.
“Hybrid classes that combine online learning components, with less on campus class meetings will probably come to dominate,” said Mr Hatzadony.
However, he cautioned that the future had to take into account “wild cards,” of which a pandemic was one.
Wild cards that could affect the future of higher education include the rise of artificial intelligence, he said.
“These scenarios are not fixed,” added Mr Hatzadony.
Last month, six of Harvard’s schools announced they would be switching to online-only classes in the next academic year, as the university joined a growing list of higher education institutions that will keep students off campus until at least 2021.
The University of Cambridge has also confirmed that all “face-to-face lectures” will be held remotely during the next academic year.
They are among several top international universities which plan to hold classes online only for the autumn term, at least.
Others are opting for a hybrid mode of teaching, which will include a mix of online and physical classroom learning.
But many universities are still assessing the situation before announcing a final decision.
The UAE Ministry of Education has kept its options open and would take into account the evolving dangers from coronavirus before taking a final decision.
Last month, Minister of Education Hussain Al Hammadi said the possibility of resuming classes, including the reopening of public and private universities and schools, would be made in line with precautionary health measures.