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University Life in the post-Covid World

by Dr Alan Sandry - Senior Lecturer, Morgan Academy

Contemporary Crisis
Covid-19 has unquestionably knocked us off our usual pathways. We have been shaken out of our complacency and our proceduralism. Essentially, we have all been assigned places on the penumbra. We have been sent to the margins of a rapidly shifting core.

Government guidelines are regularly issued to a conformist demos. Incompatible behaviour has diminished and an altered modus operandi has emerged. Biopower has never been more conspicuous, and accepted. We now have different forces of gravity.

Travel is currently limited, and could remain so. Our out-of-house movements may well be tracked. This will initiate a debate about what this monitoring will mean for our individual and collective rights.

In light of all of these disruptions, localism will take centre stage. Whilst broader and global interaction will still be important, there will be a far greater emphasis on what we can achieve within our restricted, Monday to Friday radius.

Altering Activities
There should be an urgent requirement to rethink our working practices and social lives. We ought to re-orientate across the board in order to uncover fresh domains. We are entering a new episteme, as Michel Foucault would put it. Our knowledge is changing; being refreshed. This, however, will require vison and ambition, alongside rapid readjustments.

On financial, business and trading matters, people may opt to embrace Cooperatition; the art of blending cooperation and competitiveness. This would effectuate a move away from ‘dog eat dog’ Thatcherism, which some on the Political Right are actively attempting to rekindle in the milieu of not only Covid-19, but also the soon-to-materialise world of Brexit.

Higher Education: the future?
Our notion of space has altered, possibly forever. Universities must adapt to all of this. Online activities will invariably increase, and the campus, as a public sphere, will become a noticeably different environment.

Countless Education Acts have sought to instigate, and embed, reforms. Some have achieved that, though even the most successful have only really tweaked the way we go about our business within the educational realm. Covid-19 has blown a hole in the entire system. It has provoked us, and we can’t fail to react in the most radical, and hopefully the most imaginative, terms.

Reimaging Degrees
I’m buying local is a hashtag that is circulating around social media. Perhaps I’m learning local needs to be encouraged. Swansea University could take the lead in this by advocating a scheme where students learn at their nearest university for Fresher’s Year. They could then transfer, if required, further afield. This would be a straightforward geographical and postcode system that would minimise travel - vital for counteracting any future virus infections, and useful for advancing a sustainable, environmentally-beneficial agenda - whilst substantially boosting universities in each area. These universities would then be guaranteed a steady, regulated intake of local pupils. It would also cut down on some of the layers of bureaucracy associated with the UCAS process, and the Open Day scrambles to entice applicants.

First Year students could then undertake applications to other universities for subsequent Years 2 and 3 studies whilst in situ, and in an orderly and rational manner. Degree Choices could be a Core Module of Semester 2 of Year 1.

Quick Thinking
The smartest universities will transcend any limitations. Innovation will take on a new importance. Entrepreneurial praxis must pervade daily academic life. We have to alter our systems of thought if we are not to flatline, or fall into the abyss.

In the medium to long terms, we may witness cultural change. The ‘rite of passage’ to attend university, in terms of physically being on campus and engaging with other students, may need to be re-assessed. Some students will opt for distance learning – great news for the Open University, naturally – and others may demand minimum face-to-face learning. Whether we see this as good or bad is irrelevant. It may become a fact of life, so we will have to offer alternatives to our pedagogical modalities.

Reconceptualising Higher Education will be the primary challenge for universities, in conjunction with governments, businesses, and allied sectors, from 2020 onwards. This is no longer an abstract discussion. It is reality, and our policies and application have to represent this actuality.

No Going Back
 “All changed, changed utterly”, W.B. Yeats wrote of the Easter Rising of 1916. But this moment of conversion could be applied to our current predicament. Whether we like it or not, our lives, habits and practices may well revolutionise. What we must do is ensure that this transformative switch improves life for each and every one of us in the months, years and decades ahead.