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Collaboration is key for universities to survive Covid-19

It’s time for UK universities to come out of isolation, say James Clay, head of HE, and Josh Fry, director of cloud, at Jisc

As the next academic year approaches and the UK begins to emerge from lockdown, many elements of the future of higher education (HE) remain unknown. Although it is unlikely that any sector will emerge entirely unscathed, UK HE has the capacity to maintain its world-renowned status with some adjustments.

There is a history of isolated development across HE, with universities typically working on programmes independently of one another, and even with a certain level of healthy competitiveness. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic has squeezed budgets and resources, it is becoming more evident that increased collaboration between HE providers, sector bodies and industry will be required to help fuel the sector’s recovery.

As HE moves more towards online delivery, developing effective, high-quality online or blended courses for learners is a heightened priority. But this takes a great deal of time and resources; neither of which universities are particularly rich in right now.

This is where coming together to collaborate could ease the strain of the next phase of recovery.

Sharing in the struggle

When universities are operating on distinct campuses, it makes sense to develop individual programmes, but if learning is to continue online, even if only partially, sharing resources between institutions will be invaluable.

Online resources – and even expertise – can be easily shared. For example, if each institution focused on developing an online course in its own area of expertise, universities across the country could run multiple high-level programmes, while only having to use the resources to develop one.

Universities also need to focus on a more holistic development of the online experience, rather than the small-scale approach that is inevitable when working on it alone.

For example, Coventry University and the University of Warwick have recently teamed up to launch Coventry Creates, a programme to help support local artists. The project is part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities to collaborate for the benefit of arts and culture, and will provide grants of up to £2,000 to allow local artists to continue their work through the after-effects of Covid-19.

Dr Miriam De Rosa from the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University and member of the University Partnership working group, said in a statement: “Coventry Creates is just one of the excellent examples of the partnership between Coventry University and the University of Warwick. The amazing projects supported by the scheme showcase our local talents, demonstrate our joint engagement with the community and celebrate the new Memorandum of Understanding that we have been working on with so much passion and motivation. It is excellent to see exciting and concrete outcomes of our collaboration.”

Now with a remote model, and leveraging the advantages of cloud technology, there is an opportunity for HE providers to share first- and second-level support as staff no longer need to be physically onsite

Resourcing tech

The benefits of collaboration are also evident from a technical point of view. Sharing services can save costs, and when dealing with the online space this becomes a lot easier. For example, tech support is conventionally delivered by each university to its own students, but now with a remote model, and leveraging the advantages of cloud technology, there is an opportunity for HE providers to share first- and second-level support as staff no longer need to be physically onsite.

This also means that staff resources can be shared out, and with support systems moved to the cloud, it reduces the pressure on IT teams as students and staff learn and work from home. It can also be beneficial for universities to use third-party support to provide managed cloud services for general service delivery. This allows staff to concentrate on delivering higher value support for teaching and learning, and specialist technologies.

The traditional model of trying to do everything themselves is something that universities will have to let go of

Integrating industry

While there are existing industry-education partnerships, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for such support more than ever. There will of course still be commercial aspirations, but because there is a clear need for a talent pipeline across various disciplines, some companies may see an opportunity to participate in more non-commercial partnerships – something that would be beneficial across the board.

The traditional model of trying to do everything themselves is something that universities will have to let go of. It’s not going to work moving forward, and collaboration will be much more beneficial, whether that’s through industry partnerships, linking up with other HE providers, or through working with organisations like Jisc.

The more that universities collaborate, share, and communicate what’s being done, the more opportunities there are to streamline, reduce costs, and become more efficient.

Registration is currently open for the next learning and teaching reimagined event, on 30 July. This online event is hosted by the Open University and will explore the importance of learning design, distance learning pedagogy and student support when considering how to build online learning materials.


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