30 October 2020

Higher education in a changing world: adapting in a time of crisis

How do you support new nursing students who enrol at a university at the height of a pandemic?

This is just one of 27 challenges addressed in a new report that looks at how universities and students’ unions responded to the obstacles posed by the lockdown in the UK’s nations in March 2020.

Higher Education in a Changing World: Adapting in a Time of Crisis features case studies from around Wales, and shines a light on how universities supported their students, staff and communities during the most testing of times. They show how universities:

  • prepared materials for home schoolers
  • held their performance studies showcases online
  • found digital solutions to teach subjects such as engineering
  • provided online learning to support teachers to continue teaching, and
  • created resources to help reskill furloughed workers.

The report also highlights how students’ unions responded by delivering food packages to isolating students, by keeping their students communities connected, and by celebrating the work of students.

Kirsty Williams, MS, Minister for Education, said in the foreword to the publication:
“I’d like to thank our colleagues at Welsh universities for all the hard work that took place during the initial lockdown period. These case studies show how adaptable our higher education sector is in overcoming challenges to benefit their staff, students and our wider civic. I’m proud of how our sector in Wales has faced those issues and succeeded.”

David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW, said:
“Institutions were faced with the difficult challenge of having to adapt provision to meet the diverse needs of students. Many students had decided to return home, while others isolated in halls of residence. While a number of students had almost finished their courses, some were yet to undertake assessments, complete placements and attend lectures, seminars and events.

“The resilience of both staff and students was demonstrated by their ability to push ahead with performances and conferences using digital platforms. Training was developed for staff and procedures to reassure students were quickly implemented. Staff thought of new ways to engage students with the learning outcomes of placements by arranging virtual demonstrations and mentoring.

“We are pleased to be able to bring you this publication to help shed light on the challenges of lockdown from the perspective of our universities, and how they remained very much open for business during this time.”

Alyson Thomas, Director of Policy and Funding, said:
“Students from Welsh institutions did a great deal to support the wider community during the initial lockdown period, from offering online workout sessions to designing lessons for children stuck at home.

“Students’ unions also played a vital role in supporting students during this turbulent time, offering advice and guidance as well as delivering parcels to students that were isolating. The students’ unions also helped to elevate the student voice while working with institutions to plan for the next academic year. They should be proud of how they responded and what they achieved, and in recognition of this we are pleased they will receive additional financial support from the Welsh Government as we go into the new academic year.”