6/8/21 · Institutional

The UOC and the IAU take a joint look at the impact of COVID-19 on the future of higher education in a series of talks

The conclusions will be submitted to the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference Reinventing the Role & Place of Higher Learning for a Sustainable Future
Photo: IAU

Photo: IAU

The COVID-19 pandemic has upturned the field of education, both at schools and higher education centres, with effects that the UOC, the world's first 100% online university, has examined in-depth in recent months, as can be seen in the statements of its spokespersons. UNESCO figures indicate that, on 1 April 2020, during the first wave, schools and higher education institutions were closed in 185 countries. This had an impact upon 89.4% of all enrolled students. With the subsequent drop-off in cases in some countries, a number of centres reopened their doors, but only very tentatively and always with restrictions.

A global survey on the impact of the pandemic upon universities by the International Association of Universities (IAU) shows that almost all the institutions taking part in the survey state that COVID-19 has had some kind of impact upon them: 59% said that all campus activities had stopped and the institution was completely closed. In the case of African universities, this figure rose to 77%. 80% of universities believed that COVID-19 would impact enrolment in upcoming academic years. 48% reported receiving government support to deal with the situation.

The impact of the pandemic upon the future of higher education is clear, and provides the central theme for the series of talks organized by the UOC and the IAU under the title Innovative Education for Unshaped Futures (IE4UF), whose mission is to explore some of the changes currently being seen in this area. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for physical distancing have accelerated the digital transformation of higher education around the world. More than one year into the pandemic, we believe that it is essential to discuss the changes that have occurred during this time and how or to what extent they will have an impact in a long-term perspective”, said Pam Fredman, IAU President and former Rector of the University of Gothenburg.

“It is a great honour for the UOC to collaborate on such an important initiative with the IAU again”, said Josep A. Planell, President of the UOC, “here at the UOC, we believe that it is very important, and more so in these challenging times that we are all living through, to share our experience from 25 years of online teaching. We have been doing so for over a year now, mainly with universities in Spain and Latin America, and we are glad that together with the IAU we can now reach out to universities all over the globe and reflect together on the future of higher education”.

The series comprises six hour-long sessions exploring different levels of the transformation in higher education, accelerated by the pandemic. Albert Sangrà, UOC professor, director of the UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change and curator of the series, explained that “a year after the start of this sudden disruption, which has forced many to adopt digital technologies, there remains constant uncertainty and also a need for resilience to respond to an environment of fast-paced and ongoing change”. The series, created by the UOC and the IAU, which kicks off on 10 June, aims to provide a joint reflection and seeks to offer “a response to the needs created by the situation that we first began to experience in March 2020”. Sangrà explained that, in this series, the UOC will be contributing its knowledge of online education and the university's digital transformation initiative. In turn, Fredman said that “the IAU is pleased to have partnered with UOC in order to share examples of developments and experiences that will continue to impact higher education beyond the pandemic”.

Each webinar will see the participation of two key figures, one from the UOC and one from the IAU. After the open sessions, discussions will be held—limited to 30 participants—to delve deeper into what has been said during the webinars and draw up a document to be submitted to the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference entitled Reinventing the Role & Place of Higher Learning for a Sustainable Future.

Trine Jensen, Manager, HE & Digital Transformation at the IAU, said that “in each of the six chapters of the series, we debate topics that we believe are crucial for the transformation that we will see developing beyond the pandemic and we look forward to having these conversations with participations from all parts of the world”.

Six chapters for joint reflection

Chapter I, taking place on 10 June, with the title Return to Campus: Making sense of (innovative) hybrid teaching and learning, will be in the hands of Albert Sangrà and Liz Johnson, of Deakin University (Australia). IAU President, Pam Fredman, and UOC President, Josep A. Planell, will provide opening words for the launch of the series.

Jensen said that “for this first session, we are pleased to have Albert Sangrà, who will bring in perspectives from online teaching and learning. We are also excited to have Liz Johnson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, Deakin University, Australia. Deakin University is an institution that was already leading blended learning initiatives prior to the pandemic and we look forward to hearing Liz’s thoughts about the vision forward”.

On 22 June, the second chapter, entitled Assessment practices in hybrid and online HE scenarios, will be given by Nati Cabrera (UOC) and Henrik Johansson (Stockholm University, Sweden). On 1 July, the chapter Leadership for Digital Education: Shortcuts and pitfalls will involve Josep M. Duart (UOC) and José Antonio Bowen (Association of American Colleges and Universities, USA).

This first three-chapter tranche will deal with the basic issues to be borne in mind for the digital transformation, explains Albert Sangrà. Participants will discuss the core approach to the document to be drawn up for UNESCO. “We'll be talking about how to return to campus and give a sense of innovation to hybrid models of teaching and learning, rather than just returning to how things were before: based on what we've learned, we need to be able to develop hybrid solutions that offer students greater flexibility and, at the same time, retain what's positive about the experience of on-campus life", said Sangrà.

Beginning in September, a second part with three further sessions will deal with more specific and concrete aspects. 16 September will be the date for Designing quality (online) learning, with the participation of Marcelo Maina (UOC) and Sian Bayne (University of Edinburgh, Scotland); on 30 September, Montse Guitert (UOC) and Shanali Govender (University of Cape Town, South Africa) will be responsible for Interaction and collaboration: being social in digital environments. Lastly, 14 October will see the final chapter, entitled Data Governance: What should we be aware of?, with Juliana E. Raffaghelli (UOC) and Li Yan (Zhejiang University, China TBC).

The webinars are open to all via Zoom (with prior registration) and recordings will be made available afterwards.

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