A chance for acceleration towards contemporary higher education

Working for a School based in France, delivering higher education to students with a vast international and multicultural background, we now finally also have to cancel all physical lessons and close our premises due to spreading of the Corona Virus. The shutdown surely has not come as a surprise, as pretty much all neighbouring countries, affected or not, have already taken such measures or have at least clearly mentioned to impose them sooner rather than later. One could therefore think that this has left the French providers of education more than enough time to at least come up with a short-term strategy for an emergency, known to be just that for some two months now. 

The actions taken by the government unquestionably create bottlenecks, as well as managerial and social issues for nurseries, kindergartens, primary or secondary schools, but foremost for the parents and their kids. These establishments teach children who need to be pedagogically entertained and looked after all the time. It is not sure who will take on these tasks, as teachers will be barricaded at home and parents probably still in need to go to their place of labour, because not able or allowed to smart-work.

Whereas the limitations imposed by the government could be seen as a concern for the before mentioned cluster of schools, they may be a real chance for universities and all other providers of higher education. We are working with young adults, mostly millennials or gen-Z-ders, who have completely different expectations and needs from us as faculty or institution. 

In today’s world students have much vaster possibilities to choose the city, school and programme they want to attend and get their degree in. They do not feel to be bound to a classic linear timeline, nor do they feel any need to finish their study in the same institution where it began. Following this mindset, they want and need to be the sole owner of the deciding power. They alone want to decide what best suits them. Despite the decision being taken by the student, the responsibility for the quality and success of education remains that of the institution. This is the somewhat unfortunate but current situation that private higher education is acting in.

Our students want, need and deserve very personal solutions, a bespoke learning experience for a contemporary multinational, multichannel-communicating and inclusive citizen of the world. Higher education needs to be able to fill this students’ need overtly. It needs to accelerate and become it-self as reflective, cutting-edge, disruptive and inclusive as it teaches or asks the students to be.

I therefore think, that this imposed obligation to shut down the physical classroom for fourteen days forces us all to go an extra step; to be creative again, to be somehow uncertain, to experiment new ways, new channels, new programmes, new subjects et cetera. 

This quarantine urges us finally to realistically implement the theories, concepts and ideas we were rather emptily teaching for so long now. The trend in academia to talk or discuss about design thinking, disruption, creative destruction, as well as the theoretical processes we have elaborated on how to implement them into the classroom. They finally need to be applied in the real world and very urgently so. 

This acceleration towards a different, hopefully new way of learning and teaching should just be the beginning. A rock that has been put in motion by extraordinary and uncontrollable forces. It is up to us to make it and keep it a Rolling Stone.

by Thomas Brigger in March 2020