IMAGINING THE FUTURE UNIVERSITY
A SPECULATIVE CROWDSOURCED DOCUMENT FOR HOW TO RESHAPE THE HIGHER EDUCATION SECTOR FOR THE POST-COVID WORLD
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This document was initiated by Deborah Lupton, Professor, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney
The world has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 crisis. The higher education sector, among many others, has been badly affected by the loss of revenue and consequent risk of job losses caused by the crisis. Many, if not all universities are currently in crisis-control mode. Senior managers are frantically trying to conjure solutions as the leaking of funds swells ever dramatically. Academics and professional staff are anxiously contemplating the new threats to their job security, while members of the precariously-employed faculty see their future employment prospects becoming even grimmer.
In this environment of fear and borderline desperation, what kind of university can we imagine as rising from the ashes? As university crisis teams and taskforces gather to attempt to manage this situation, how might creative and speculative thinking generate new and exciting ideas for how to build a vastly better and more equitable higher education sector for students and staff alike?
Please contribute to a crowdsourced imagining of the future university, by writing in your thoughts below. It is up to you whether you do so anonymously or by giving your name to your contribution.
Please note that this is not a research project and therefore there are no ethics approvals or consent forms required. These ideas will not be ‘analysed’ or included in academic publications. Instead, this document is intended to be an open resource of ideas that can be contributed to and used by any interested member of the public, including current or future university students. Ideally, thoughts shared here can potentially feed into discussions held at individual universities for ways forward as we work to strengthen universities and make them better places.
Please write your responses below to any or all of these prompts:
What would you like to see universities doing in the post-COVID era? What should they look like, feel like? What kinds of learning and teaching should be taking place? What kinds of courses and degrees should be offered to best suit the post-COVID world? What kinds of skills or employment should universities be training students for? Any other thoughts?
Post-COVID universities should be free.
For me, the post-COVID university would be a place where online learning mixes seamlessly with face-to-face learning, and people can choose how they combine these modes of learning. All learning would be free of charge, so that everyone who wants to can benefit from a tertiary education. Lecturers would not just rehash the readings for the week on their lectures and tutorials. No lecture would run for longer than 20 minutes. Learning would take place with students working in small groups (sometimes online, sometimes on campus) on tasks or projects involving creative activities that stimulate their thinking on the topics covered in the course. There would be plenty of learning spaces on campus where students could work alone or in small groups.
I’d like to see units run around a dreamt up question/problem/idea and have scholars and students work collaboratively on it for x weeks, present finding along the way. Curriculum and reading jointly created and evolved across disciplines by/for those self selected. Mandate one of these ‘open’ units per term. Peer evaluation determines grades. (L Heemsbergen, Deakin University, Australia).
I’d like to see the idea as Luke suggests above being a way to link research and teaching much more. If students and lecturers and researchers are working together on (real) problems and topics, in collaboration with communities and people outside of the ‘traditional’ university boundaries, the distinction becomes much more blurred between what is “research” and what is “teaching”. So, the post-COVID university—in addition to being free, of course as Hannah notes—could act more as a platform for social action, an organisation which society supports in order to address and tackle challenges and questions where bringing together lots of knowledgeable and inquisitive people can offer benefits for society more widely. This would need some of the existing structures in many universities to change. Maybe it’s as simple as thinking about many more activities as being “project-based” and enabling time and resources to be allocated in that way. (Dan Lockton, Carnegie Mellon University)
The MOOC model is the future. Technology broke the physical barriers of learning long ago. We are adopting it now by disaster rather than by design. (Neelakshi Joshi, UAlberta)
I think we have a great opportunity to use technology in a way that makes education more accessible for those who cannot travel freely to or within university campuses. At the same time, if online education can be refined and we can get to the stage where delivery is smooth and seamless and infrastructure is readily available, this promises to be a major step in terms of enhancing the freedom of choice of those receiving the education - those who are not emotionally suited to in-class study, who work more productively on their own, who are too shy to fulfill their full potential in group situations. The one-size-fits-all education delivery model can be changed with the technology we have available today. As was mentioned above, allowing students to choose their preferred mode of learning seems to me to be a very positive step towards a more inclusive education delivery model, and I hope this is the direction we’re heading towards. (Kathy Okumura, Kobe C