Higher education’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Building a more sustainable and democratic future.
Digital divides, the global student economy, and post-COVID ideals among the issues discussed in new book launched by Minister Simon Harris
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Higher Education cannot return to pre-COVID norms and must find new and better ways according to leading experts

A group of global education leaders have stated that higher education cannot return to pre-COVID ways of doing things and that the sector must look at building a more sustainable, equitable and democratic higher education environment for all of society.

The views are contained in a new book “Higher Education's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Building a more sustainable and democratic future” launched today at DCU by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD. The video of the launch is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRHvfNtuuQs

Poor broadband, digital devices, the increased pressure on universities to produce research, lack of funding, students as “consumers'' and internationalisation strategies are among the topics explored in contributions from international leaders in education compiled during the mid-way point of the global pandemic.

Speaking at the event Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said,

“Our higher education institutions, our learners and staff, have risen to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic with grace and resilience.  We have dealt with problems, but we have also found new ways of doing things, and that’s the change I want to see embedded as we recover.  I don’t want to see us going back to the same old – we know better now, and we will do better as a result, not only as an educational ecosystem, but as a society.”

Published as part of the Council of Europe’s Higher Education Series and edited by Sjur Bergan, Tony Gallagher, Ira Harkavy, Hilligje van’t Land and DCU Professor Ronnie Munck, the book examines the ways and means in which higher education can contribute to a more sustainable and democratic future, stating “we need to make sure that the university that emerges from the COVID-19 crisis is more sustainable and inclusive than the previous model.”

It highlights that higher education plays a crucial role in maintaining the conditions necessary for a culture of democracy outlining that “the higher education community has a responsibility to prevent the current COVID-19 crisis from developing into a deepening and pervasive crisis of democracy.”

Finding a new way of doing things is a theme emphasised by DCU President Professor Daire Keogh who articulates a need for universities to engage in a process of redefining their purpose in a post-pandemic world; “Higher education is at its very best when it is most connected. Indeed, the most successful universities are those that are globally interconnected but locally rooted. If nothing else, COVID-19 has convinced us of our common humanity and the vulnerability of our shared planet. The crisis provided an opportunity for an affirmation of the essential civic mission of the university in the “next normal.”

The book which gives an insight into how education leaders responded to the COVID-19 crisis in Europe, North America, South America and Asia is divided into three distinct sections; setting the context, the challenges and responses, with the final section on a democratic and sustainable university.

Contributors identify the pressures on and expectations of higher education institutions to play a strong and consistent role in producing scientific research as society, politicians and the media have a renewed focus on and appetite for analysis, data and science- based evidence.

The focus on students as “consumers” and the internationalisation of education is put under the spotlight, with questions raised as to the long-term implications of such a strategy, not to mention the impact on the environment and global carbon footprint.

The enforced turn towards online teaching and learning has demonstrated the depth of the digital divide and exacerbated existing inequalities. This situation has come into play, specifically in Europe where the once hidden, gaps between those with and those without access to broadband and digital tools is now very obvious.

The necessity of making a sustained effort to democratise access to digital technologies for all and not simply for the more “affluent” connected student in a revenue raising exercise is also discussed.

The President of DCU Professor Daire Keogh said,

“In the past year, universities across the world have demonstrated the intrinsic societal value of Higher Education Institutions in the face of a major global emergency like COVID-19. Universities have shown themselves to be engaged, agile and innovative in their responses, which have included the rapid development of Public Health solutions and strategies, offering expert analysis of the pandemic’s political, economic and social implications, and ensuring students continue to receive the highest quality education.

I warmly welcome this publication, which gives an excellent overview of university responses to COVID-19, while also considering the important questions facing the sector in the post-pandemic era.”

 

"As higher education begins to come out of the pandemic one thing is certain: business as usual is not an option going forward. This book brings to bear international thought leaders in a creative exercise to re-imagine how we teach, do research and engage with our communities in new ways," remarked Prof Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement, DCU.

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“Higher Education's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Building a more sustainable and democratic future” is the 25th volume published in the Council of Europe’s Higher Education Series, which was launched in December 2004.