The Time is Now for Higher Education Leaders to Plan for Next Semester

The time is now, and it is crucial. Higher education leaders and faculty around the world are using this summer break to better prepare for the fall semester embracing what has worked in the past year and improving what has not.

Demand for online learning has skyrocketed during the past academic year. A trend that had been pushing hard to get more attention finally became the default way of teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Historically, pandemics have served humanity to help break with the past and reimagine the world anew.

Pretty much in the same way employees will not return to the physical office five days a week any longer, all students will not return full-time to physical classrooms. The world has changed. We are currently living a time of transition toward a massive change visible in every industry and sector. It is paramount for university and college leadership to embrace this change if they want their institution to remain relevant.

Universities are among the oldest institutions on Earth, with some historically rooted in medieval society. The University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco, founded in 859 CE, is the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world and holds a Guinness World Record for the number of years continuously serving as a higher education institution. The second world oldest is the University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088, which is also the oldest university in Europe continuously serving.

Since 859 CE, universities and colleges have gone through and survived massive disruptive changes and structural reforms. Leaders need to recognize the importance of rethinking higher education post-Covid-19 in order to emerge triumphant like a phoenix, right after this summer break, strong and ready to face the new challenges.

It is all about learning what and how to change

During this 2021 summer break, it is time for leaders and faculty to learn how to plan, change, organize the courseware and lectures. They will be evaluating what worked and what did not work for their differentiation and competitive advantage.

After experimenting with remote teaching, with online tools, and having to learn on-the-go there was not too much time for conscious thinking and evaluation. Since every single college was going through the same, all the experimentation models were okay for the time. But now the experimental period is over. When the new academic year begins, everything has to be in place. Like it or not, there is only the summer break to prepare and come up with a master plan that will deliver results.  

Changes in delivery of higher education post-pandemic: What senior academic leaders are saying 

Higher education leaders around the globe are rethinking how they will respond to change post-pandemic.

The following responses from senior academic leaders were curated from research on Rethinking Higher Education Post-Covid-19, an in-depth study conducted by Jungwoo Lee from the Center for Work Science, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea and Spring H. Han from the Graduate School of Management, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan. The researchers conducted interviews with  Senior Academic Leaders, including Vice Chancellors.

The demand for how higher education is delivered is going to change dramatically. “The majority of our offerings will shift from being face-to-face to being online or blended —a combination of face-to-face and online delivery,” said one New Zealand Vice Chancellor.

According to an Australian Dean, the focus should be on moving away from lecture/tutorial format once and for all. “Lectures are a bad, one-way mass medium. Like watching free-to-air television with a bad signal,” he said.

There is no doubt the pandemic has legitimized the online learning platform, as noted by a Thailand Dean: “In our case, the pandemic has made online learning more ‘respectable’ and brought it more into focus for faculty.”

One Australian Vice Chancellor said: “On the teaching front, we will see new models of international education, and increased embracing of e-learning and online content. This was the push the higher education world needed to fully step into the digital domain.”

Added another Australian Vice Chancellor said: “The need for digital literacy retraining for established academics — and to be inculcated in the training of emerging academics is paramount.”

Furthermore, one Hong Kong Dean refers to “First generation online programs” as something that many universities are instituting. “Lectures are pre-recorded in small 15-20-minute segments and then delivered live or synchronous tutorials using platforms like Zoom or WebEx.”

Some of the higher education leaders expressed concern that online programs are still largely based on the old lecture and tutorial model of university education. “This, in my opinion, is a mistake,” said an Australian Dean. “The very same technology can be used to radically change the learning environment for students (and academic staff).”

Another Australian Vice Chancellor foresees some more permanent post-pandemic changes: “Large face-to-face lectures will be no more. The classroom will truly flip to replace the traditional lecture with online content and context, augmented through face-to-face seminars, tutorials, workshops, and labs... The timetable will become freer and students will have more choice.”

It is also important to mention that student feedback is a rather paramount element in the adoption of any change or any new program.

I know what you’ll do this summer

Nothing can be more exciting than being part of a change that will be part of the history of higher education. A new chapter is being written and it is being written this summer.

Join Fierce Education and higher education executives for a “Business & Leadership: Summer Edition” virtual event  on July 14 to learn what some university leaders are doing to alter their business models to accel in this new Education 3.0 world. Register here.