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PODCAST: Bailout, social distance, governance, optimism

This week on The Wonkhe Show we look at the fallout from the Government's support package for universities and students.
This article is more than 2 years old

News, analysis and explanation of higher education issues from our leading team of wonks

This week on the podcast we look at the fallout from the Government’s support package for universities and students.

We also ask whether it’s possible to create a viable socially distanced student experience, the role of university governance in the next phase, and share some optimism about the future.

With Mary Curnock Cook (serial non-exec director), Chris Shelley (Director of Student and Academic Services at University of Greenwich).

Items this week:

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[00:00:01] It’s the Wonkhe show. This week, the bailout. That’s not a bailout. The new normal on campus. What does a socially distanced first time look like for learners and governance? See, that gets going again. Who gets in the way? It’s all coming up.

[00:00:12] You know, the whole of the Higher Education Research Act was predicated on competition and choice. You know, that was the Joe Johnson mantra at the time.

[00:00:21] But, you know, if you if you read E six, it’s basically saying, you know, please, please don’t please don’t go out there and compete because we’ll find you on the head if you do.

[00:00:42] Welcome to The Warnke Show, your weekly weigh into this week’s higher education news policy and analysis on Jim Dickinson. To cheer us up with our optimism and foresight. As usual, we have two excellent guests in Oxford share serial non-exempt director and general.

[00:00:55] Higher education. Big name Mary Curnock Cook. Maybe your night of the week, please.

[00:00:59] Good morning, everyone. So my highlight was my docs emerging from a scrotal in the woods and coming out. Each of them brandishing a stinking, mouldering leg of deceased Munchak. It was completely disgusting, but they look so ridiculously pleased with themselves that it was definitely heart lifting.

[00:01:21] Absolutely extraordinary. Out in the Southwest credit, she’s director of Student and Academic Services. Chris Shelley is here. Chris, Yohana, Louie, please.

[00:01:28] Well, my highlight, Jim, was installing a hot tub in the garden of my mother in law’s house where we’ve relocated for lockdown. So I’ve now got somewhere to escape from either work or my children.

[00:01:38] Excellent. So, yes, we start this week with the bailout. That’s not a bailout. On Monday morning, the government’s package of support for higher education. It’s fair to say that was a level of disappointment. Mary, what’s your take on the package so.

[00:01:51] Well, here we go. A couple of weeks ago, universities, UK off the government. I think for about two billion worth of bailout. And last Sunday, the government didn’t oblige. It did bring forward about a hundred million of KUAR funding and it reprofiling a tuition fee, payments from the student loans company. And I think that brings forward about two and a half billion of cash flow. But that was about it. No new money. Just a bit of slightly different timing. But and it’s quite a big but it also announced a temporary student, no control and some new market smoothing measures. Now, the no control was at the level asked for by you. UK set at five per cent over forecast note forecast recruitment for UK and EU students. And then there was a sort of hat tipping towards the more recent million plus proposal to allocate up to 10000 places, mainly for essential worker training, such as nursing and midwives. So there’s a couple of things to note here. One, the applicant demand across the sector and this was measured pre kov. It is up by, I think only about one point two percent. I think most people think that’s likely to fall as students are put off by the virus fallout. So in my book, capping at five per cent above forecast is probably only going to curb recruitment at quite a small number of universities.

[00:03:10] And I think it won’t do much to help those at the bottom of the pile who have suffered in any case since the student number controls were lifted in 2015. I think it’s going to mean quite a few universities who simply cannot fulfill their financial obligations. And if you read Mark Corvus piece last week on Warnke, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the cap will only further depress weakening depart. Demand from students. I’ve also been heard to say that a cap on student numbers is a cap on ambition that only works if the cap is in any danger of being breached, and I’m not sure that it is. Now, if those concessions were supposed to be the carrot. Watch out for the stick. And this comes in the form of a proposed new regulatory condition, ESX, which metre jammed legal beagle supremo from Shakespeare Martineau calls out for bringing broad, unspecific obligations which will create risks of unfairness and oppressive behaviour by regulators and could lead to legal challenges. I’m wondering whether it’ll become Higher Education’s Dangerous Dogs Act. If you’re sorry about all the dog references this morning. Now, if you’re feeling strong enough to read the RFL consultation on this proposed new condition, read it.

[00:04:25] And I think probably weep is about as clear as mud. How universities are supposed to try and maintain financial sustainability condition D If you’re listening at the back when they’re every marketing or recruitment move might be judged contrary to the interests of stability and integrity in the sector. So while the O. F. S through this so-called cap on the condition E6 is busy trying to stop the sector from giving students perhaps a wider choice of courses this year, it seems they’re also supporting UCSC to enhance their clearing system, seemingly making it easier for students to make what I think could be rash decisions to self release into clearing and then be matched through clearing plus or whatever it’s called, through data to a suitable course. I, I just think throwing a bunch of new variables into an already pretty precarious and unpredictable admin admissions cycle feels bit loaded with risk. But there we are. I just wish, Professor, come at this more from the position of protecting current and prospective student interests. And I think if we helped students feel really confident about starting or continuing their studies and what choices they were making, you know, that feels to me to be the place to start. If you’re wanting to protect the financial sustainability of. Universities are discussed, as they say.

[00:05:45] Chris, what’s your take on these, you know, these these these traffic calming measures?

[00:05:50] Well, I think it’s you know, it’s reassuring that the government of turn to the sector finally and put something on the table. Obviously, it was not what we were hoping for. I think at least with the student number controls, you know, for a lot of universities, as Mary says, we probably won’t get near those kind of numbers released. At least it gives us some some wiggle room and some, you know, a scope for ambition, depending on what the market looks like by September. And, of course, that is likely to be very volatile in between now and then. I mean, I think we’re interested in the future. The working groups have been formed as part of this will be very interesting and I think especially around international recruitment and what the outcomes of that will be. And I think, you know, it seems that the professor just taken this opportunity to give themselves a new set of teeth and perhaps give us a new set of teeth as well. Which obviously walls of remain to be seen, how were how strong they are and how willing they are to bite down. And very intrigued by this. This consultation on the on the new condition of registration and the language within that broad and vague.

[00:06:50] There were tears, but sort of veiled threatening as well around, you know, actions which could bring the sector into disrepute or whatever is which which is very, very broad. And also makes it an interesting assumption that the universities might be about to leap out and stop shouting about how badly other institutions are planning on dealing with this. And it’s very clear that it is Naughtie to make claims about providers quality of support or tuition when actually I think we’ll also try to work out on what we’re all doing ourselves, let alone guessing what the university down the road is doing under whether or not it’s good or bad or ugly and whether or not we would then, I know, put out an e-mail to an applicant, not quite sure how that would how that would play out, but it just seems that they’ve taken the opportunity, I think, to to tell the sector that they are watching us and that they want us to behave when actually what we’re all trying to do is do the best thing for applicants, for students and for our own sustainability in the near future. Really?

[00:07:46] Yeah. I mean I mean, the list of behaviors I think is extraordinary because it’s really difficult to work out whether or not they are things that, you know, some people inside OFAC have already seen or whether they’re just sort of, you know, things that they think they might see in their wildest fantasy. So I think that’s fascinating. But, Mary, I mean, you’ve been close to the kind of applicant process, right, throughout your career. What if what is it that students are supposed to do? You know, applicants are supposed to do right now in terms of weighing up different providers, because, you know, as Chris says, it’s actually difficult to work out what providers are gonna be providing in September.

[00:08:17] Yeah, I think I think that’s right.

[00:08:18] And, you know, my thinking would be that anything a university can do to reach out on a very personal basis, you know, literally phoning up one to one, discussing it with offer holders is the kind of confidence that students will will want and need, that somebody actually cares about them as an individual, as a person, and that they are not just part of a kind of herd of people wondering what the hell is going to happen in September.

[00:08:47] And, you know, I do think this idea, you know, I am slightly worried about this kind of UCAS and clearing plus stuff, you know, not not not the offer itself to match students to places, which is great. But if actually this is an effort to get students to feel that they can change their mind at the last minute when this is a a year when they’ve had less opportunity, you know, a lot of them won’t have been to open days and they won’t have the opportunity to go to offer holders open days, which would normally be taking place and around now. And, you know, to kind of destabilize them by putting lots of new choice in front of them, I’m not sure is quite the best thing to do. So I think if I were in university at the moment, I would be I would be reaching out on a very, very personal level to every single applicant or offer Holder.

[00:09:44] Chris, back to this kind of big bailout question. Obviously, you know, lots of the critique of the package has been that it tends to it treats the problem in the sector right now as a liquidity crisis rather than a, you know, a kind of solvency crisis. Is it? You know what might happen if if if we end up with, you know, an actual solvency crisis?

[00:10:04] Well, I mean, here’s a phrase you might hear a lot now. It’s becoming a new cliche, my head, which is we just don’t know. And I think I think what we have to be doing is continuing to feed in via, you know, universities, UK and the mission groups. What we’re seeing, what the trends on the ground. What are the numbers telling us about the students that may or may not be arriving in September and onwards? Because like you say, there’s this not long bailout is sort of predicated on the fact that everything will be normal in September. To an extent, we’re still going to have an awful lot of people applying and therefore paying tuition fees. And we’re just going to make sure that you get that cash in your bank a little bit sooner. Well, actually, you know, my colleagues in finance will be reassured by that to a certain. Because they are worried about cash in the bank. But actually, you know, their biggest problem is the bottom line at the end of the financial year. So when that money comes in is less of an issue than is it coming in at all in the first place. And I think if if the government at the moment feel that, you know, full on whatever basis it is that students will still be turning up in sufficient enough numbers to keep everyone afloat. Then if that isn’t the case and if we start to see the evidence that isn’t the case and we start to feel that, you know, there’s a real risk of institutions falling over because, you know, applications that have suddenly dropped by 50 percent on on the same moment in Elashi a cycle, then we need to be making that clear so that they can respond appropriately. But at the moment, they do seem to think that things will be OK. And it’s just about helping us through a short term cash flow situation.

[00:11:23] They’ve also bought themselves some time, haven’t they?

[00:11:25] They’ve allowed themselves to be able to wait until they see where their recruitment chips fall in in August and September and before deciding what to do next. And so rather than anticipating what students might or might not do and who might or might not turn up or enroll or go into clearing, et cetera, they’ve they’ve put the short term cash flow support in there.

[00:11:53] And, you know, this will be revisited, won’t it? You know, as we watch the daily clearing data releases from Newcastle in the middle of August, it’ll start to become clear. And although we don’t get provider level data at that stage, you can bet your life that UCAS will be providing that to government.

[00:12:13] And of course, by then it may be it may be too late to take any significant action. I mean, one thing that concerns me is just the general tone. I mean, obviously, we’re in a market and obviously institutions are competing against each of the four students. But sometimes I worry that the language in these kind of statements from nowhere fast, it sort of undermines how well the sector works together. And I think, you know, the gist. Male male bases have never been as alive as they are right now. But generally, we are a sector that just talks which are there. Clearly, marketing departments aren’t going to share their tips and techniques. And fundamentally, when it comes down to it, we’ve all got our targets to hit and we all need to make sure that we can survive. But generally as a sector, we talk to each other a lot. We do share our best practice. You know, wanky exists very much because we’re all interested in learning what each of them are doing. And while, yes, there is a competition within that market, I think we should learn to play the fact that right now the sector is trying to respond to this together and actually, you know, creating more divisions between us won’t help us do that. Interesting by sort of news coming out of New Zealand yesterday that implied that they’re considering a University of New Zealand approach for the next 12 months to say we just got to come together as a nation, as a sector and provide one single experience to recruit as many students as we can. Make sure everyone survives and then take it from there. And I think that’s a that’s a very proactive approach to a problem. We’re not able to do that if we wait until August and suddenly the numbers start to crash.

[00:13:26] I mean, Barrie, Chris makes a good point, doesn’t he? That we we have a system, particularly in England, where the whole idea is that competition will cause an improvement in provision. Now, you know, we could we could debate that until the cows come home on on a different podcast about whether in normal times competition, if they sought, generates improvement and quality. But I mean, it seems to me that it definitely doesn’t right now.

[00:13:46] I think that’s right. And I think there’s a real conundrum for the government and for the NFF because, you know, the whole of the Higher Education Research Act was predicated on competition and choice. You know, that was the Joe Johnson mantra at the time.

[00:14:02] But, you know, if you if you read ESX, it’s basically saying, you know, P, please, no, please don’t go out there and compete because we’ll bring you on the head if you do.

[00:14:12] And I think this is very complicated.

[00:14:15] And, you know, if the government really thought that competition meant just, you know, lots of nice universities offering nice courses that students would want to do and would support the economy and society and so on, but not make any effort to actually recruit people to those courses when their income is predicated on how many students they they sign up.

[00:14:35] And you know that that was a quite a quite a naïve view.

[00:14:39] Now, of course, we’ve got hopefully we’ve got a decade or so of growth in in the size of the, you know, the 18 year old cohort, which will which will help a bit.

[00:14:51] But the idea that universities can’t go out and communicate to students why why they think their offer is a good one and why a student should want to come there is just not realistic in any market.

[00:15:05] Can I just ask you both? Obviously, we talk a lot about universities, but one of the things about the Higher Education Research Act is that it was it was supposed to be, you know, the ushering in of this, you know, large number of alternative providers. And to be fair, there are as of today, there are 394 providers on our Air Force’s English register. And I guess, you know, the question about whether ministers would let a university fail is one thing, but whether or not ministers might let some of the you know, the narrower end of that long tail fail is probably quite another.

[00:15:36] Yeah, I think I think that’s right. You know, basically all of this is about. The university sector, that’s, you know, that’s what Okah Cartman, what the numbers are, but it’s probably 90 percent of the sector is the hundred and forty odd traditional universities. And, you know, so nobody’s going to be overly bothered by some of the fallout at, you know, the sort of long tail of small private providers. And that’s not what’s going to hit the headlines either. But a university falling over. And, you know, particularly in the new political post, December election landscape, you know, a lot of the you know, what some people characterize as, you know, low quality courses are, you know, offered in universities in the North and the Midlands, which were, you know, in those areas which fell from Labour to Conservative in that in the last general election. And I really don’t know how that all squares with the kind of levelling up agenda, you know, not to mention the local economic fallout of a university going under.

[00:16:40] Yeah, I guess. Look, Chris, we we did get a couple of clues as to what might happen if, if and when this becomes a, you know, a solvency crisis. There was obviously a couple of lines in the package about, you know, a working group around research funding. And you’d have to guess that in the end, that’s the sort of money that would Tomberlin to the kind of Morila and to the sector. And we’ve seen something similar in Scotland later in the week. And then there was this other line, wasn’t there, about, you know, restructuring if all else fails. And, you know, certainly what we’ve been looking at, what’s been happening over it affy over the past three or four years and, you know, every review. You know, lots of stick sticks and carrots to try and get Affy colleges to merge into groups. Do you think we might see something similar in nature?

[00:17:23] The thing is, if we aren’t, we’ve asked this question before. We and there’s been moments in in the recent past where we thought, okay, you know, this is the government or the DFA or our Fassel. Have you have an opportunity to start, you know, enforcing mergers or taking control or whatever? And I think it just goes back to that question of, you know, how how strong are these new teeth that they’re giving themselves and how willing are they to use them so that they’re hinting with it, with other sorts of language that that those kind of steps might be taken. I mean, I still feel that they will want to make that very, very last resort and they will want to retain the autonomy of institutions, so to speak, as much as possible to get themselves out of a particular problems. They are right. And if a whole sector is facing it, then that’s a bit easier. If some individual institutions have made some decisions or have been particularly impacted badly because of their the nature of their provision or their location or whatever it might be, they may need some specific help. I would just like to think we’re still a few steps away from essentially government intervention and force mergers and closures.

[00:18:17] I don’t I don’t know if you read in the Financial Times today, you know, and we’ve got the Wolf of Downing Street. You know, Alison, welfares is in there. And I think a few people might want to dust off the orga report, which Jim, you’ll remember is it is nearly two years old now.

[00:18:33] It’s obvious. Well, I mean, you know, a year and a half. Yeah. I mean, it depends which milestone because it was announced and then we were gonna get an interim report. That never happened. I mean, it does feel like it’s been going on since my early childhood.

[00:18:44] Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? But I think I think we’ve sort of allowed ourselves to let that kind of drift into into the background.

[00:18:51] And it feels to me as if some of the, you know, conceiving of this as a tertiary education sector rather than just a higher education sector under further education sector and an adult education sector, et cetera. And it feels to me as if we probably need to reacquaint ourselves with with those kind of arguments.

[00:19:10] And again, you know, I thought, Barrie, I don’t know if you heard Boris in PMK when, you know, his first appearance, opposite care Starmer this week. But someone asked him a question about further and higher education. And his answer was, it was really interesting because, of course, he talks about universities in the context of kind of elite research and, you know, trying to work out what was happening with corvids. And he talks about the fate of the education system and skills. And I guess, you know, the interesting question there will be what happens to the really big Affy colleges that are doing lots of H-E work and what happens to, you know, the large number of, you know, post 92 universities that are doing lots of skells work. Because if if that kind of simplistic bifurcation between universities and research and, you know, college colleges and skells is what’s in number 10 said, mate, maybe, you know, some of those ideas in Orga about to come back and, you know, and weep when you think what it’ll do for diversification and access and widening participation.

[00:20:07] I don’t know if anyone heard Lord Baker on on the very late night. I think the midnight news here for last night, he was suggesting that all arts and humanities courses should be online and only STEM courses should come back and face to face in in September. So there’s an interesting thought.

[00:20:26] Well, I mean, if as I have said on the site this morning, if you want to absolutely guarantee students feeling a deep sense of injustice, do go ahead and implement Lord Baker’s proposals now. Very good. Thanks. We’ll come back to some of those. But for now, let’s see who’s.

[00:20:41] For us this week, Foreign Committee Dooku, I’m a consultant now, Schoop, and prior to that, I was the, I suppose, education mostly in students. I’ve written a piece reflecting one year on after the Closing the Gap report into to look into the BMF payment gap for the sector needs to do it in my piece. I sketch out some of the key recommendations are I’m having conversations about race and culture, developing racially inclusive environment, recommendations around evidence and data and what works.

[00:21:12] And then really tried to talk a bit about what the implications are today, a year on and a very different context with Kobe Bryant being recognized that many colleagues who support this trend will be concerned, but be concerned that existing BME students, that inequalities will grow as a result of digital poverty and other socioeconomic challenges.

[00:21:33] They’re more likely to be disappointed in this current structure, but also that many initiatives will have been switched off.

[00:21:39] And I make the point very simply that actually, given that 19 has driven Kruschen also to business as usual, this is the time an institution is much more receptive to change. If you want to change the team AGAP, you have to make fundamental change. And given the change that happened over the last couple of months, this is probably the best time.

[00:21:58] And don’t forget, we’d love to have your contribution on the site. If you’d like to pectus a piece, drop us an email at Team Wonky dot com with your idea and we’ll be in touch. Now, next up, our recording date for this podcast is Thursday. And today, along with our friends, are Alloway running an event on No. Belding’s next term. Our senior teams may have some of the scenarios that have been worked up from wild ideas to concrete proposals. Chris, what does a socially distant September look like?

[00:22:21] Well, unprecedent sorry, we just don’t know is the new unprecedented, but which we’re trying to work out. We’re trying to guess. And I think as the eyes of the nation turned to the prime minister on a Sunday evening to see what lockdown mark two looks like and too much and what the immediate future looks like. The eyes of the sector for a few weeks now have been very much focused on September and trying to imagine how that applies to the teaching and learning experience and everything else around it for university campuses. We know from a starting point any kind of activity on campus in September will have to follow ever given government measures are in place at that time. And obviously we’re guessing at the moment what that might be. So, you know, large, very large groups of people presumably at that point will still not be allowed. But how do you define the difference between small, medium and large groups? Obviously, maintaining social distancing within teaching spaces in between one and two metres apart will significant reduce capacities of those teaching rooms. So working of different models of the timetable based on smaller class sizes is a starting point. But you’ve got to pick a number. Are we talking 50 percent of your normal capacity? 20 percent, 25 percent? Actually, some teaching spaces will be different than others. You know, some perhaps have got more than one entrance will be easier to socially distance students than others.

[00:23:42] If we are guessing that schools by then will be allowed back in, then you can assume that groups of up to 30 potentially are going to be allowed because that’s what class sizes are. So is that number to go onto the basis of what we are? We haven’t to guess, speculate, estimate and and prepare for a whole range of different scenarios at the moment. So, you know, just just creating a timetable is worth saying that the process of creating a timetable is a complex, difficult, and time-Consuming one at the best of times. And so, you know, my timetabling team are just about in the process of wrapping up the first draft of the timetable for what would invert commas normally be in place in September. And actually now we’ve been asked to create one based on model A, model B and Model C as well. And who knows if models A, B and C will even be what what comes out of it. So there’s a huge amount of work going on in the background to try to model what these scenarios look like. And of course, within this, we’ve got to try and deliver a, you know, high quality, equitable experience from a teaching point of view. So if students can come onto campus, then should they be able to? And we sort of facilitate that where possible.

[00:24:46] But the students that the council wants a compass because we aren’t letting them, because we’re minimizing the lessons that will actually be taught on campus, or maybe the international students haven’t yet been able to fly into the country, or perhaps they are having to socially isolate themselves still because they are living with vulnerable family members or even ill themselves, then they’ve got to be able to get the same experience as much as possible, at least the same sort of teaching outcomes as those that are in the classroom. So, you know, we’re looking at flipped classroom models where the time spent together is much more discussion based and digesting teaching rather than just sort of taking in information. Obviously, we’re also looking at how the timetable might be spread out over the day. We’re talking potentially about, you know, more evening classes. And that has an impact on staff time, but also might be more acceptable for students who are who are more remote. So there are so many different elements of this to consider, not least the facts, of course, that what happens in weeks. Three of the two might be different to what happens in weeks, four, five and six of the term. If a second phase of lockdown comes in or the measures change in in whatever way they do so, institutions like ourselves all around the country will right now be modelling different scenarios with the aim that what we come up with is something that can be flexible and applied to multiple scenarios.

[00:26:02] But ultimately it is still delivering a quality and equitable experience. What also then translates to is, is that bits around the teachings of all of the professional services and all of the other activities that would take place on campus that are currently obviously being delivered remotely. And actually, I think some of that will be retained actually even went well past the Soviet crisis. We learned an awful lot of how we can do things differently. And some of our services will continue to be delivered. Remote listening should be able to access appointments online if they need it. We should be doing online virtual workshops to teach students around how to apply to posted work visas or whatever, those sorts of things that we’re doing right now. But also what I find interesting is we’ve we’ve grappled as a sector for a long time with this. How do we reach this this mythical group of students that we call commuter’s these people who don’t live on our campuses all the time and aren’t automatically engaging with us on a face to face basis daily? Well, certainly everyone’s a computer student. So the way that we’re reaching out to our students right now can actually teach us some really valuable lessons for the future.

[00:27:05] So some of the things we could do, for example, working with our students union, calling every student in residents is directly to check on their well-being, you know, putting turning some of our services into virtual events in a virtual events within them in the evening, putting a whole range of social activities and programs on whether it’s fun things like games and, you know, Netflix parties or whatever, but also things like language learning and, you know, just additional skills that we can deliver in a remote sense that still bring students together in that virtual way. Well, actually, we should be retaining this. And I think that we will be. And what the whole student experience looks like after this, let alone after September or in September, will be it will be quite significantly different. But, you know, ultimately, we are having to model based on the guidance that comes out from the government. And I guess the first hint as to what that looks like will come on Sunday. But the the the advice will change so much between now and September that our ultimate aim is to be as ready and prepared and flexible as possible to deliver an experience from September, which the government clearly, as we’ve said, are expecting us to be up and running at that moment in time.

[00:28:06] Mary, obviously, there’s there’s a huge pressure at this point on universities to to announce something, not least because, you know, lots of universities in North America are saying they will be open, do enroll. And I guess, you know, that international competition thing is putting lots of pressure on universities to announce. But there’s a danger here, isn’t there, that universities announce something when you know that’s still in the process of working out what’s possible and what isn’t.

[00:28:27] And I think, you know, people talk about the new normal. I think it’s the new abnormal, the new turbulence. And I’d like to think that there’s some silver linings for students. You know, if they if they find that actually the new unit postcode it or crowded university experience means an abundance of small group teaching, for example. I think that’s that’s probably a good thing if they have their lectures delivered through platforms and apps and then consolidated in smaller groups. And then the other thing I’ve reflected is that, you know, students and universities are very resourceful. That’s you know, that’s one of the things we’ve I think has sort of surprised everybody in all of this, is that this unprecedented situation, you know, people have people who’ve just adapted to it, haven’t they? Really quickly? And. And, um, I think that students will very quickly work out ways for themselves to keep themselves safe and within their kind of comfort zone and in a potentially somewhat socially distanced campus. I mean I mean, it’s interesting that, you know, talk of a January start instead of a September start seems to have faded out. And I think that’s a good thing is I think it would be tremendously disruptive to to have, you know, one cohort going through on a different timetable to everyone else. And I think the you know, it comes back to, you know, telling students what you’re doing. I think, you know, if if if students were getting the kind of communication we’ve just heard from Chris about what you’re planning for and so that they so that they know you’ve you know, you are at least thinking about all of these different scenarios, I think that would be tremendously comforting and would be a big confidence boost to them.

[00:30:08] I think there’s real problems around accommodation and really, really worry about, you know, how universities and students can manage to make sure they’ve got accommodation when and if they’re allowed to use it. And that those who are, you know, who are not renting direct from the university itself, you know, how on earth we can provide protections for them so that students aren’t having to live somewhere and pay rent for somewhere where they’re not living. So, you know, there are there are multiple complexities to this situation. But I. You know, I think young people are very, very resourceful. And if we can keep them on side, you know, to know that they’re going to be looked after. Whatever the whatever turns out to be the reality, I think they might even quite enjoy being part of a, you know, quite an experimental term start this year. And and, of course, universities are also going to have to be planning for whether there are future waves of lockdown and so on. So it is going to be very, very different.

[00:31:08] But let me ask you both this question. So obviously, to some extent that’s been I understand why, because it’s the core thing that universities are providing. There’s been lots of focus on, you know, the kind of contact time, the teaching, the, you know, the seminars, the lectures, the labs and so on. But, you know, for the 120 other hours a week that a student is awake and moving and so on, if commuter students can’t get on public transport and residential students have got to go back to their tiny room alone. This isn’t a viable student experience, is it?

[00:31:37] That’s where that’s that’s why I made the point about students being resourceful. And I think they would they would find ways of meeting, communicating in, you know, within broadly within whatever the current rules of the situation are. And, you know, I’ve I’ve just observed, you know, my own I’ve got two grown up kids locked down with me here at home. And it’s astonishing how carefully they’ve just, you know, kind of upturned their lives and readopted. And, you know, I have great faith in young people, too, to figure out ways to make the best of things.

[00:32:15] Good stuff. Now, from designer PPE to improbably socially dist., lecture theatre is the new normal for university life. It’s going to look like a strange and unusual place. In a few months time. But how will it work? And how on earth will we get there safely? Kicking off our new series of events called Wonkier Hope. I’m going to cut through all the background noise, a big political debates to take you on a tour of the unique challenges ahead facing university leaders, students and the whole university community. One key at home, the new normal. What will it look like and how will universities get there? Is our exciting online event. Full details are available at Warnke dot com forward slash events. I’m going to take you on that tour and in response will debate all of the ideas with an expert panel hosted by Wanky is editor in chief Mark Leach and Mary Stewart, vice chancellor of the University of Lincoln and some other speakers. All to come here should come. Leaders, managers, heads of department, comms, planning mistakes. See everything in between academics wondering what on earth your university will look like later this year, and indeed, anyone interested in how universities will need to change in the months and years ahead.

[00:33:24] 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Friday, the 15th of May, one key dot com forward slash events.

[00:33:30] See you at home now. Governance. It’s probably fair to say that in the initial emergency period, governance got out of the way and allowed senior teams to crack on with crisis management. But there are big decisions about the future looming. And so governance is probably about to kick back in. Mary, you’re a C cereal. Not exactly. Some of the things. Governance.

[00:33:50] Well, I mean, you’re right, Jim. It’s been a very challenging time for governing bodies and both to support the executive in the eye of the storm and then, you know, at the right time, lifting their eyes above the horizon and planning for a future of, I think, more unknowns, unknown unknowns than we could possibly know.

[00:34:10] But from both sides of the boardroom table, executive and non-executive, I’ve always found it really interesting to observe how the risk registers stand up to the reality of a big hairy risk crystalizing. And I find that, you know, there’s really a risk register that we don’t have actually anticipated what then transpired. I’m pretty sure that not many universities had actually planned for a pandemic and lockdown scenarios. But I think it’s worth saying that universities who had the known unknowns well manage, you know, all the stuff that we do. Cybersecurity, I.T., resilience, communication, Cascade’s financial stuff, contract failure, quality and so on. And the ones who were doing that really well and will have found that they had more headspace to handle the very specific fallout of the coronavirus crisis because their basic risk housekeeping was in good shape, I think. And as we touched on earlier, I think it seemed inevitable that a restructuring of the higher education sector is in the sights of government, you know, accelerated and focused by this existential financial crisis that many universities will be facing. I mentioned the Financial Times piece this morning, which is worth reading and the kind of non bailout bailout underline this. So government’s move to shore up short term cash flow. And I think it will then look at the financial and structural fallout when the autumn recruitment picture gets gets clearer. And that gives it time to see which universities.

[00:35:41] Can be strong armed into new arrangements, narratives. It’s been there for for a long time now, a low quality courses, excessive debt, high salaries, too many graduates in non graduate jobs. And there’s still, you know, a big handful of old school Tories who think that too many people go to university. And as I mentioned, we’ve got Alison Wolf, who was part of the orga review, advising at the heart of government in the prime minister’s office. So I think governing bodies will need to be on the front foot. They’ll be needing to urge their hard pressed leadership teams to make time, to find time and make time to think strategically about the future. And they’ll need some imaginative and carefully positioned responses if they’re to avoid being, you know, done to it by the government. And I think I think shocks like this can have a silver lining and they provide a new backdrop and and a real kind of urgency for some zero based strategic planning where all the old norms get thrown out of the window. And so I think governing bodies need to start reimagining what higher education in the 2020 is and beyond could look like. And they’ll need to do it really quickly. I think they’ve got to have got to have something to put on the policy table so that the government doesn’t eat higher education as we know it for breakfast.

[00:36:59] And this is a really interesting question, isn’t it, Chris? Because on the one hand, you could probably make a case for governing bodies, probably, which contain lots and lots of members that are really busy with their own organisations or, you know, careers or whatever, kind of stepping back and letting managers try and get through the, you know, the extended crisis. You can make another case that says old, our governing bodies need to step up, step in and and take charge of these big strategic questions about, you know, either expenditure reduction or, you know, where the university goes next.

[00:37:27] Yeah, that’s right. And I think that, you know, it’s the usual question of where do you want to be in 10 years? Time actually needs to be broken down, probably into, you know, asking ourselves what does the sector, but also our university look like in two years, three years and five years, 10 years? Where is it we want to get to? But what how are we going to change shape and look different and get to where we need to be in what could be a quite rapidly changing, especially for this sector? You know, look at field and structure. And I think those Europe’s right. You know, governing bodies need to be asking those questions and driving those questions. I mean, I think we’ve looked at university. Grealish governing bodies has always been, I think, quite strategic in its thinking, in its planning and its probing. We’ve just had, you know, a new vice chancellor start just before Christmas. So we’re already asking ourselves where those fundamental questions. But, you know, immediately that’s been obviously slightly refocused and actually imagining what the university looks like in 10 years time is impossible without imagining what it looks like in two years.

[00:38:25] Mary, is the sector’s governance fit for purpose, for the sort of, you know, the size and shape of the crisis that might be coming?

[00:38:30] I think one of the one of the problems is that strategic planning takes an absolute age in universities, more so than in any other organisations that I’ve ever been involved with because of the sort of democratic governance, internal governance structures that are that are there. And so, you know, I find myself getting involved in university governance that that that sort of. I’ve called it before the schizophrenia between professional services and and academics is is is just such a real pity because I feel like both sides of the organisation are actually trying to do the same thing and both need each other. I was you know, I was really struck out. I tweeted an article from The Telegraph yesterday about students wanting rebates of fees, which I think is an entirely reasonable position. And there was a kind of a stream of of responses to it. On the one hand, parents and students saying, hey, you know, we’re not we’re not getting everything we paid for. It would be really nice if somebody recognised that.

[00:39:37] And on the other hand, a load of academic zank. We’re working really hard. We’re not shocked. You know, this is what, you know, working till 10, 30 at night, et cetera, et cetera. And both are right.

[00:39:48] But for me, it really it really kind of put the spotlight on this kind of divide between reality, between the professional services and the academic side. And I think if, you know, sometimes you need a good crisis to crystallise things and certainly governing bodies need to move quickly to to rethink what they’re going to be like and to rethink how they can strategically position themselves in in a something that’s conceived of as a more collaborative tertiary sector, a more coherent tertiary sector. And, you know, they can’t take two years to do that and go through all the committee structures and so on. So and so I. I hope that universities will feel that they can alter their approach to strategic planning and that they can find ways of bringing all the side. The university on board with that, but not in the way that it’s traditionally done now.

[00:40:46] Now, finally, it’s a bank holiday weekend. So I think we should try to identify something that is potentially, you know, a bit of optimism for the weekend. So so my knees and I’ve been saying next to a few people this week. I’ve got a feeling that in five and a half, six months time, even if we still by then haven’t got a vaccine or haven’t got, you know, effective treatments and so on, that we may well have a much more sophisticated way of of slowing or halting the transmission of coffee, insane than ham fisted social distancing. You know, it might be civilian style PPA or something, but that’s the science in five and a half months time may well have found out that found a way to enable us to get on public transport and live and work together in a way that we can’t perceive of right now because it still may. And so my bit of optimism is I think, you know, there is at least a scenario where lots of this might be all right in five or six months. Cresson, marry your piece of optimism.

[00:41:46] So I agree with you, Jim.

[00:41:49] I was judging a kind of an innovation in ADTECH thing a few months back. And I think, remember, if it won or was in the highly commended but was a pandemic simulation, which sounds exactly like what they’re doing in the Isle of Wight. And it was Bluetooth enabled. And students could, you know, they got allocated, whether they were infected or not, and whether they had face masks and and vaccines and things or not. And then they were able to game it by, you know, by Bluetooth connections to other people who had the app on their phone. So, yeah, I’m I’m also optimistic. And, you know, I just come back to this idea that I just I just think the whole country has been so extraordinary the way that it’s adapted to, you know, a massive, massive change in how we all live and work or don’t work and how we live our lives. And and undoubtedly, people are finding good things from from all of this. And, you know, I’m certainly very cheerful about not having to get on a train into London three or four times a week. And and actually, I find some of the meetings that I do online are very fruitful. And sometimes they feel a bit more democratic than when you’ve got human beings, you know, in a physical room together. And I think this sort of rush to online is going to be really interesting. I think it would be wonderful to see people get really good at using platforms and apps for learning, you know. Okay. I keep thinking, you know, young people, they listen to podcasts all the time. They use WhatsApp. So they don’t think of that as, you know, online communication. It’s just communication. And I think if we could get to a place where it’s just learning and if it’s mediated through through a different platform or a different app and we get really good at that, then it just opens up so many possibilities.

[00:43:47] Yeah, I mean, I just, you know, look to the future optimistically just because of how well and how quickly we’ve adopted and responded so far. I mean, I said on many groups that meet monthly and in the last couple of weeks we’ve gone, crikey, this will feel different the last time we met. And you know how much has changed in in four weeks. And obviously now it’s you know, it’s a week, six weeks, seven. As you say, we’re four months away from the start of term. So an awful lot will change in that time. But for a sector that is notoriously slow at changing itself and universities are notoriously slow changing ourselves, while we’re great at changing the world, we’ve suddenly learnt how to change things quickly. And it’s really been inspirational to see how, you know, colleagues have done the right learning and teaching colleagues almost literally overnight preparing, teaching and assessment to be delivered in a completely different way. And everyone gets behind you ever gets on board with it. And suddenly so and it’s available and we’re all working together to the same same goal. And, you know, if the goalposts move again, whether it’s this Sunday or three, some days later or two months time, then I’m very assured that we will be able to react. We’ll be better prepared because we’ll have more warning. But actually, where we need to move quickly, we do.

[00:44:55] So that’s about it for this week to find out more about anything we’ve discussed today, you’ll find links on the episode page up Warnke dot com, where you can also leave your thoughts and comments. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to us automatically. Just search for the Warnke show on your favorite podcast directory or you’ll find the feed. You need a wonky dot com forward slash podcast. And if you’ve got what it takes to be a guest on the show, drop us an e-mail on team at Monkey Dot Com. And we’ll be in touch. Thanks again to our guests, Mary and Chris, to everyone at See Wanky for making the show happen. And, of course, to you for listening. Until next week. Stay Wonkhe

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