Over the week I have been working on various papers and reports, which have been going through a consultation and review process.
We launched the Data Matters 2021 conference this week, I am working with QAA and HESA on the programme for the event, which will be online.
This year’s theme will focus on ‘enabling data certainty’. The UK education sector is moving towards an uncertain future. The sector needs to transform to meet the requirements of industry 4.0 and student expectations. With COVID-19 having such a huge impact on the operation of the higher education sector now and in the foreseeable future, the entire student experience has been and will be disrupted by the restrictions in place to mitigate the risks of the virus. This has impacted on the use of formal and informal learning spaces, as well as an increasing reliance on online platforms and digital content.
It has also impacted on student recruitment, domestic as well as international. Universities have a responsibility to support all students to thrive and achieve, and it is increasingly recognised that students’ experiences are very different depending on a large number of factors, including background and personal circumstances, type and subject of their course. The mental health and wellbeing of students is an increasing concern for universities and sector bodies.
The role of data, analytics, data modelling, predictive analytics and visualisation will be a core aspect of this uncertain future, but the uncertainty will bring new challenges for the sector in how they utilise the potential of data. Public scepticism about algorithms and data use is creating new ethical and legal challenges in the gathering, processing and interpretation of data.
So there are still real challenges for higher education as infections continue to rise and groups of students being forced to self-isolate, regional and local lockdowns make it challenging to deliver teaching. were the students to blame?
A glance at the Wonkhe dashboards would suggest this is a reasonable conclusion to draw – there are no Mid-level Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England with more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days that have less than 2,000 students in residence. As you have probably come to expect, things are a bit more complicated than that.
David points out that blaming students for the rise in covid-19 isn’t just not helpful, but also isn’t accurate.
Universities are suffering again from negative press, saying they shouldn’t have opened. However they weren’t given much choice and on top of that in the most recent restrictions, even at the highest tier, universities are expected to remain open.
Though what does open mean anymore?
When we had the full lockdown back in March, yes students were sent home, however universities remained open, their campus may have been shut down, but research was still happening, teaching was going ahead and many students were learning.
Universities can remain open, but doesn’t mean the campus has to be open. Maybe the government should have listened to the advice from their own SAGE scientists who said three weeks ago that “all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.” If that advice had been followed maybe, many of those covid-19 infection hotspots could have been avoided.
What we do know is that many universities are moving to online delivery curriculum models and for many students self isolation is part of the student experience.
I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon!
About 40 universities around the UK have now reported coronavirus cases and thousands of students are self-isolating as the new term begins.
The University of Aberystwyth is the latest to suspend face-to-face teaching to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
At the University of Essex a cluster of cases has been linked to sports teams.
Queen’s University Belfast – some students have been told to self-isolate after a “small number” tested positive.
The University of Exeter, which has also reported a “small” number of cases.
In Wales, with much of the population in lockdown, students in many of the Welsh universities were also forced to isolate and stay in their halls. This was proving to be traumatic for many first year students, who are mainly young and for most is their first time away from the family home.
Universities are facing various welfare challenges as you might imagine, but also the challenge that as well as physical face to face delivery, those sessions now also need to be delivered online. This is a different challenge than March where all students were off campus now there is need to deliver multiple versions of the same session. In addition the rise in covid-19 infections is impacting on staff, who may now want to shield, creating additional challenges for delivery across campus and online.
As universities struggle to contain student parties, and with coronavirus outbreaks already confirmed at several campuses, many academics are afraid of face-to-face teaching. But some say managers are bullying them to return and, fearing redundancy, they feel unable to refuse.
It doesn’t help that the press coverage is rather negative and biased against the sector. The universities were told by government that they should reopen their campuses. The Government were clear about what they expect from the sector:
We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.
The culture secretary has defended students going back to university in England after a union labelled the situation “shambolic”. Oliver Dowden told the Andrew Marr Show it was important students did not “give up a year of their life” by not going.
Though many (if not all) universities have planned for this, it’s still a difficult situation.
This morning we saw pieces on Radio 4’s Today programme and on the television on BBC Breakfast about the crisis, didn’t help that there were a fair few inaccuracies in the reporting.
So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.
news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…