Debates, discussions and disaster planning have been happening across the country as universities consider how they might reopen campuses. 

Last week the University of Manchester announced that all lectures for the start of the coming academic year will be delivered online. 

And yesterday Cambridge University announced it was going all digital until at least next summer. It is the first UK university to set out measures for the full 2020/21 academic year. In the announcement administrators announced that lectures will continue virtually until summer 2021 and that small teaching groups may take place if social distancing requirements can be met.

Along with the rest of the country universities were closed in a hurry. Reopening them is going to be far more complicated than shutting them down and the path to the opening is uncharted.

Over the last weeks we have been welcoming a range of expert speakers and we asked them their thoughts on how institutions can navigate the challenging months to come until a new normal is landed upon.

 

Transparency, honesty and integrity

 

There is a genuine business case for being open and honest during this uncertainty.

Students, and their parents/guardians, are desperate for clarity and assurance. They want to know the university is going to keep them safe, that provision is being made for distancing and  that their time and money will be well spent.

Building trust is always a good investment. This is never as true as during a crisis.

 

Make the case for university

 

Universities aren’t just “selling education” they are actually in the “experiences” business. 

Experiences that help students become more employable, even during a recession. By and large, outcomes for graduates remain brighter, under all economic conditions, than for non-graduates.

The case for attending university remains strong.

While there are many challenges of participating in online learning only for a period – students are more motivated to learn more in an environment where they are surrounded by other students and visit large classes – demonstrating the ability to be a self starter and work independently has value in this new world!

❣️ BB Resource: Money Ready for Uni online solution

 

Making the case against deferment

 

As Hepi’s Nick Hillman recently stated “Many people assume that student numbers will fall in response to the current problems, but recessions tend to mean that people want more education because the alternatives – underemployment or unemployment – are worse.”

With student friendly jobs scarce and no opportunity to travel the argument against going to university becomes weaker. This is especially true for those for whom university was a set path just a few months ago..

Even if most classes are online for a period, university is about more than just the lectures and assessments. University is also where we develop skills for life – and in an increasingly online working world developing these skills is key to success. 

 

Focus on community and belonging

 

Building community in the online environment increases the likelihood of student success and this is because belonging leads to feelings of safety and a safe brain is ready to learn (see this).

We will not be able to replicate the social development experience of university – and hopefully we won’t have to long term – we have to bridge the gap until students are able to enjoy the full experience again by maximising the feeling of belonging during this period.

 Encouraging interaction, building virtual spaces – like discussion boards and pre and post lecture time, as well as simply being available are all powerful vehicles for creating community.

 

Reaching out to students 

 

Reaching out and communicating with students and creating more opportunities for all sorts of interactions with staff and peers is critical. There are so many digital communication tools now at your disposal and different media can be used to communicate different messages at different times.

So is looking for different ways to provide emotional support to students who might be anxious and in distress. transitioning staff from low impact work – like admin matters than can be automated – to high impact work supporting students will yield enormous benefits.

❣️ BB Resource: Social media hacks to connect with students

 

Don’t lose WP momentum – low income, first in family, under represented

 

It would be devastating to see a reversal of the progress we’ve made in closing the disadvantage gap and compensating for the impact of online learning is crucial. 

This includes addressing technology inequality – laptops, access to stable wifi etc – but also support with ensuring adequate food, housing and mental health support.

Summer hardship support and efficient processes for additional funding can remove some of the most extreme financial distress for students.

❣️ BB Resource: The Funding Tool