It is very clear that this current situation is not about to blow over quickly. Having been frantically engaged in Business Continuity Planning for the last few weeks, it feels as if we are all now settling into the business of simply continuing.
One of the main focus areas for Higher Education has been the sudden and urgent need to transition teaching online. Much was already there, but this is by no means a straightforward proposition for all disciplines. For many subjects, careful thought has had to be given to the creation of new forms of student engagement, new content and new assessment approaches.
The ability to identify what currently existed, how it needed to change, manage that change in an appropriate way, and implement it – fast – has put many staff under enormous pressure. We might imagine that the institutions with readily accessible data and clear processes, especially if these are online and able to be managed by staff working from home, have found the process slightly less painful than others.
“Having a consolidated curriculum management tool (CourseLoop) and process has allowed for easier identification of offering options for students. It has also allowed nimble approval processes for adding new offerings to respond to students' enrolment needs during this difficult time.”
Manager, Curriculum Data and Assessment Support
Recent headlines suggest that thoughts are now turning to the financial impact which will inevitably be felt. By students directly – many Australian universities have recently announced new student support funds – and by universities themselves. Staff hiring freezes, project suspensions and pay cuts are all on the agenda for institutions looking at decimated revenue forecasts. The ability to make and execute good decisions about cost management is dependent on access to robust information. This is no different when it comes to the curriculum.
A university’s curriculum is a major source of revenue, but it also drives cost. There are direct costs associated with teaching as well as the overhead costs of the resources, facilities and management required to support delivery.
Being able to maximise revenue and minimise the cost associated with the curriculum very often comes down to being able to answer detailed questions: If we cancel this subject, which courses will be affected? Will we put our professional accreditation at risk if we switch this specialist subject for a more general one? What happens to the assurance of learning if we no longer run these assessments?
Being able to answer these questions accurately and quickly is dependent on having a system with the capability to hold structured curriculum information and surface the webs of complex relationships which exist.
Universities are extraordinarily resilient. They outlast not just governments but political parties. They survive wars and natural disasters and they will survive this. But we can expect that things will never be quite the same again. Certain structural changes in the sector – the move to online learning is an obvious one – are unlikely to revert completely to a pre-2020 state.
The international student market will take time to recover, and we may see new student mobility patterns when it does. Institutional and personal risk appetites will be re-evaluated, and new priorities will emerge.
The universities quickest to recover will be those with the agility to see new opportunities and adapt their curriculum to the new landscape the fastest. Now is a good time to think not just about getting through this, but how to come out the other side equipped to succeed in a changed world.