In a matter of months, the world has changed beyond recognition. Covid-19 has led to an unprecedented reorganisation of everyday life, with half the world’s population subject to lockdown measures at the peak of governmental response to the pandemic. These measures are being eased across the world, with uncertain and worrying consequences in the continued absence of the vaccine which would herald a potential resolution of the current situation. In its continued absence we face the necessity of institutionalising what has been called ‘social distancing’ but is perhaps better described as ‘physical distancing’, given the capacity of digital platforms to facilitate social interaction without the co-presence which is still frequently seen as its defining characteristic.
The impending arrival of the forthcoming academic year means we urgently need to grapple with what this crisis means for the future of the university. How will higher education be transformed by lockdown and social distancing? What university do we hope to work within after this crisis? What contribution should we make to building this post-pandemic university? The current operations of the university are reliant on the affordances of digital platforms and this seems likely to grow in the coming years, even if some face to face meetings resume in the name of blended learning and research capacity. This includes digital platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom being incorporated into the core operations of the university in a manner which is likely to be difficult to unwind at a later date, as much as it has served a clear purpose in the present crisis. For this reason it’s essential we begin to incorporate the socio-technical into our established accounts of higher education, opening up the ‘black box’ in order to understand the role played by technology in building the post-pandemic university.
However while we see digital technology as playing a crucial role in response to this crisis, the questions which the sector faces are much more than technical ones. Our intention is to facilitate a conversation which bridges theory and practice, analysis and intervention, animated by a shared concern about what this crisis means for the university and how we ought to respond to it. If we want to understand the challenges facing higher education, it is imperative this encompasses the range of potential responses to these difficulties and the interests and ideals served by these for the multitude of groups who will play a part in building the post-pandemic university. We hope this will be a broad and multifaceted conversation which brings together multidisciplinary expertise engaging with an eclectic range of topics rotating around the core problematic of ‘building the post-pandemic university’. We imagine this would include themes such as:
- The built environment of the campus and how it is likely to change
- The enactment of social distancing across the university’s activities
- The impact of the pandemic on racialised, classed and gendered injustice
- The implications of these changes for equality & diversity within the university
- The impact of Covid-19 on the challenge of climate change
- The search for new markets and products by education investors
- The public role of the university and transition out of the crisis
- Equality and diversity in the post-pandemic university
- The geo-politics of Covid-19 and its relationship to global higher education
- The challenge of academic mobility and the potential demise of the global conference circuit
- The surveillance architecture inherent in the turn towards platforms
- Labour relations during the crisis and what this means for the post-pandemic university
These are only suggestions and we welcome contributions on any topic which speaks to the broader theme of building the post-pandemic university, particularly if they also contribute to a broader exercise of mapping out the contours of the present crisis and possible transitions from it.
Please send 300 word abstracts to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 31st with the subject line ‘Building the Post-Pandemic University’. We aim to inform contributors of acceptance by August 10th for an online conference due to take place on September 18th. We hope this event will be the starting point for an edited book so please indicate when submitting your abstract if this is something which you might be interested in contributing to.
We will release full details of the conference format soon after the confirmation of acceptance but at this stage we expect the bulk of the event to take place through Zoom with an as yet to be confirmed asynchronous component which will extend participation beyond those who are speaking at the conference.