Being of now of an age where I have a growing parental interest in higher education, as my kids get close to making applications, you might understand my worries about what the coming years might bring for universities.
Even if – and it is ‘if’ – we have got on top of containing the worst of Covid in the global North, the impacts of the past two years will be felt for a long time yet.
Most obviously, there is the shift in practice that we’ve discussed and debated at great length: more online, more hybrid, systems that can allow for increased flexibility in matters of co-location. I’ve yet to see an institution that has not sought to embed all that Zooming/MS Teams-ing/Blackboarding into their work patterns on a more standing basis.
That’s all fine, as long as those same institutions can keep their minds on the project and not drift back to the ‘good old days’ of putting research first: these new models demand more of students, staff and universities as a whole, so assuming that it’s just like before will be a recipe for growing problems.
But Covid has also created a long tail of issues elsewhere.
To return to my starting point, admissions for the next several cycles will be out of kilter. The huge disruption for the past two cycles from both changes in school-level grading and in deferrals cannot be smoothed out overnight.
Even if the issues are more pronounced in the UK – where school-leavers have been given teacher-based grades, resulting in much grade inflation that the government wants to crawl back, and where a demographic bubble is working through too – it’s also to be found in other countries. All of us will find that our plans on promoting diversity in our HE student population will come under more strain.
Of course I’m aware that of all the people facing these challenges, my kids will have a head-start on multiple fronts, but if our teaching is to mean anything then it has be about helping others to achieve their full potential, so it’s on all of us to reflect upon – and to act to address – how this plays out.
Business is very much not as usual.