It’s been well-documented that students worldwide are reeling from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes are cancelled, schools are shut and education in disarray. With many of students stuck at home and fearful of being asymptomatic carriers, universities in Europe and the U.S. stand to lose billions due to lower student enrolments.
In limbo in this dynamic of students choosing safety and universities facing a cash crunch are educators, and they are struggling. They are working longer hours than usual, some are losing jobs and in some countries have gone on strike. Those who are still employed are having to upskill without formal training.
To forecast the future of higher education and understand its impact on students, educators and universities, Re:Set asked education experts to weigh in on the future of the industry and how the pandemic will impact various facets of the college experience and a student’s life. In the second part of a three-part series titled ‘The Trap Year,’ we spoke with Dr. Marisha McAuliffe, academic director at NSHM Knowledge Campus and former course director at the University of Cambridge.
Dr. McAuliffe, how is an increase in online learning changing the value of teaching?
The perceived value of learning is seeing a change due to online learning. For example, we have students saying “If your classes are offered online, why am I paying so much for certification?” The point is that with knowledge and education, there is a value attributed to it. We have a saying in the west, “You get what you pay for.”
So if the education is free or cheap, you question the quality of the learning material, the teacher and their learning experience. The thing that people are paying for is the knowledge itself. It’s not about the infrastructure, but about the content, the living experience and the outcome. With e-learning, we’re not sure of that yet.
How will this change impact the profession?
In the short-term, I’m seeing many professors and teachers upskill themselves with online learning, trying to broaden their understanding of subjects even apart from their current area of expertise. With that increase in knowledge and expertise comes an increase in intellectual capital. This personal development will ensure that we’ll get higher quality teachers at the top, which will increase the value of good teaching.
Students too then will get a taste of that level of education. It will also weed out universities which don’t acquire this higher quality of teachers on their staff, the students will vote with their fee for the best. Teaching will become more important than the glitz-like reputation for students and they will drive the market as they get smarter about their choices. And with time, those educators who haven’t upskilled will be weeded out too.
So, more teachers will lose their jobs. But isn’t this bad for students in one way? How will this impact different countries?
The difference will be starker in low income countries like India, and in the short-term there will be an increased shortage of good quality teaching as students drive demand for better quality worldwide. It’ll become perform or perish. You need intervention on the policy level to upskill teachers. In the U.K., for example, policies like the Teacher Education Framework have shaken up things in a big way. Australia has a policy for quality and learning attention.
People often look towards the west as being the highest quality of education providers, however I’ve seen so many universities have floundered on online teaching and learning. They have to pull their game up because they will be left behind.
As universities in Europe are offering degrees at more affordable costs with better online infrastructure where students can consume lectures and bite-sized summaries online, why would students tolerate that lower quality when you can access that higher quality?
And it’s well past due, that students stood up and said, “We’re not accepting this nonsense.” It’s changing across the world.