Improvise, adapt, overcome

The coronavirus crisis is forcing everyone – including universities and THE – to reassess and revise long-standing assumptions and practices

April 2, 2020
Man with face mask covering eyes
Source: Getty

Life in lockdown is a strange combination of familiarity overload and constant change.

One sleeps, wakes, eats, attempts to keep children happy and productive, and spends endless hours on Zoom talking to colleagues, all in the same domestic room or two.

You are at home, but it is not home as you know it.

The constant adjustment is mirrored in work itself. We are all having to get used to new ways of doing familiar things, a process that often brings out the best in colleagues (and sometimes ourselves), but which is also frequently frustrating and discombobulating.

The cumulative effect of these constant adjustments, when one steps back, is enormous.

Many of us are now working and living in ways that would have been barely conceivable just a few weeks ago. And we are making it work, while researchers, clinicians and policymakers do what they need to do to find a route out of this strange purgatory as soon as possible. It will not go unnoticed how lucky we are to have so many working with such speed and skill across our university systems.

In our news pages, we consider the way in which this research effort is funded, structured and coordinated, and the relative merits of different approaches to solving a universal problem such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Take another step back from the immediate public health crisis, and it is clear that beyond the horizon lies a critical second wave of challenges for our university systems.

It is one of the great positives of this crisis that any doubt about the value to society of our research base has been blown away. Expertise will be firmly back in the driving seat when the pandemic clears.

But there will be huge difficulties to overcome, most significantly the way in which a ravaged economy and public purse pays for and invests in universities and science.

In the UK, the government had just set out a major commitment to increase spending on science when the pandemic began to take root in the country.

Will that level of investment still be available at a time when such astonishing sums of money have had to be put to work preventing economic carnage?

Even more pressing is the viability of the old model in most of the developed university systems, which is built on funding a huge portion of university activity through international student fees – primarily from China.

Our news pages also feature a report on a panel discussion at last week’s International Higher Education Forum (held via Zoom, of course), during which the economic effect of the pandemic was compared by one UK vice-chancellor to that of the Second World War.

Other participants raised serious doubts about whether the East-West flow of students, with their billions of pounds in tuition fees, would ever return to current levels, and the many years that might require in any case.

So it is a time of crisis requiring constant adjustment, and when the crisis passes we will enter a period of longer-term and more structural change.

At Times Higher Education, we are having to find new ways of doing things, too, to ensure that the quality and breadth of our journalism is maintained and delivered to you, our subscribers, in the most effective and sustainable way.

You will find full details on the carrier sheet that came with this week’s edition (the sheet on which your postal address is printed), but, in short, we are going to be focusing on delivering the best possible package of news and comment day by day on our digital channels – access to which is included in your subscription, and which carry everything that appears in print and far more besides.

To allow us to do that, we are going to reduce the frequency of the print magazine – which will be more analytical in tone, as always – from weekly to fortnightly from this issue.

So your next print issue of THE will be delivered on 16 April.

We know that some of our loyal print readers will miss the weekly issue, but we hope that you will understand why we have to make this change at this particular moment, and that you will use our website to keep up to date with everything that is going on across the higher education world day by day.

Thank you for reading, and for everything that you are doing in your own roles at this extraordinarily difficult time.

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