SalesforceRe-opening a safe, secure campus after Covid-19

Re-opening a safe, secure campus after Covid-19

A panel of experts from academia, industry and consultancy discussed how quality data can be applied to deliver high-quality student experiences from September and beyond

Could the coronavirus pandemic be the catalyst for creating a much richer, more holistic blend of on-campus and digital experiences for students? A webinar held on 23 July 2020 about best practice for reopening universities campuses, hosted by Times Higher Education in association with, suggested that this could be a real possibility. As universities consider if, when and how to open in the new academic year, they’re encountering a host of practical and strategic challenges. 

Trevor Payne, director of estates for the University of Birmingham, explained that preparations to open in September are already under way: “We’ve tested our digital infrastructure in a way we’ve never had to before. Now we’re starting some activity again on campus, getting the community working again so we’ll be ready and know what it will look and feel like. We want to know what the learning experience will be like and how the student experience will feel if amenities on campus are restricted,” he said. “We want to offer the best possible student experience and the way to do that is to be honest and open about what’s going to be different.” 

In the US, where the pandemic’s impact has been different across different states and where institutions are subject to different restrictions, preparations for reopening have been “chaotic”, according to John Jibilian, director of higher education at Deloitte. “Some systems will begin fully online while others have their heads in the sand and aren’t communicating any changes,” he said. With coronavirus cases on the rise again in the US, some universities are considering contact tracing and the potential use of technology to enable students to self-check or see if a campus building is too full to enter. 

Data will play a crucial role in optimising the student experience, as universities cautiously move to the “next normal”, said Geshri Gunasekera, senior director of institution success at Bringing together data on individual student circumstances, campus arrangements and feedback can help universities tweak what they offer or respond to issues in a timely way, she added. “Being able to use personalised information is critical when there is so much noise and everyone is asking what they are supposed to do,” she explained, citing the example of the LSE, which will use data analysis to support incoming first-years in a more tailored way, depending on where they come from and the campus they attend. 

The panel agreed that the learning experience universities offer in future must be a high priority, and that the experience of being a student – whether that’s on campus, online or a bit of both – is a key component of that offering. 

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