Webinar Panel: Higher Education in the Plague Year: The transformative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

21st May 2020 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Research Group: Higher Education

Speaker: Nick Hillman, HEPI Ka Ho Mok, Lingnan University Susan Robertson, University of Cambridge. Simon Marginson (Chair), CGHE Director & University of Oxford.

Location: Online

Convener: Simon Marginson

Audience: Public

Seminar Abstract


Higher and tertiary education are socially and economically central to most countries, enrolling more than 75 per cent of the young adult age group in Europe and North America, and over 50 per cent in East Asia and Latin America. The COVID-19 pandemic has larger effects in education than almost any other sector, cutting normal output by 90 per cent (UK Office for Budget Responsibility) with higher education and research activities taking place only in online form. With travel restricted and asynchronous health risks in different countries, international education is at a standstill except in distance learning form.

While higher education communities have come together in the face of this once in a lifetime challenge, there is tremendous support and caring for people in the sector, and many institutions have developed remarkable online programmes at speed, education is about the cohort experience and interaction in depth where it generates a broad set of intellectual, work-related and lifetime skills. The face to face experience is valued by students. Yet in most countries it will be months before institutions and research laboratories can be reopened – and if the pandemic recurs at scale higher education could be disrupted for most of 2021, raising questions about tuition fees in those systems where students and families share the cost. Students from social groups already under-represented in higher education, often with less access to ICT infrastructure and greater dependence on face to face support, have been especially hard hit. The next batch of graduates face a labour market flattened by recession, which again places the value of higher education participation in doubt. With government funding cuts almost inevitable in many countries, institutions will be under severe financial pressure, especially those that are financially dependent on onsite international students. The pandemic may also bring about lasting changes in forms of delivery, administration, meetings and international travel and collaboration in higher education; and in some countries, in the balance between academic degrees and vocationally specific shorter-form programmes.

The webinar brings together a panel of leading international experts on higher education, from UK/Europe and East Asia, zones in which the pandemic is equally transformative but has played out very differently in society and in higher education – and a participant audience from across the world.


About The Speakers


Nick Hillman has been the Director of HEPI since 2014. He worked for the Rt Hon David Willetts MP (now Lord Willetts), the Minister for Universities and Science, from 2007 until the end of 2013, as Chief of Staff and then Special Adviser in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. His journal articles include pieces on the Coalition’s higher education reforms for the Oxford Review of Education (2016), on access to schools and selective universities for Higher Education Review (2014) and on the fifty-year history of student loans for Contemporary British History (2013). He also wrote the authoritative account of being a special adviser for the Institute of Government (2014)

Ka Ho Mok is a Co-Investigator on CGHE’s global higher education engagement research programme. He is Vice President and concurrently Chair Professor of Comparative Policy of Lingnan University. He researches and publishes on higher education policy and governance, comparative development and policy studies, and social development in contemporary China and East Asia. Ka Ho was named by the Ministry of Education in China as Changjiang Chair Professor (Comparative Education and East Asian Studies) in 2010.

Susan Robertson is a Professor of Sociology of Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, where her research focuses on education in a political context, including how education has developed to help service the economy, the commercialisation of education, and the role of for-profit companies in the education sector.

Simon Marginson is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford, Director of the ESRC/RE Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), Editor-in-Chief of Higher Education, and Lead Researcher with Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Simon’s research is focused primarily on global and international higher education, the contributions of higher education, and higher education and social inequality. At Oxford he lead teaches the MSc (Education) subject on ‘Globalisation in higher education’. He is currently preparing an integrated theorisation of higher education. His recent books in comparative and international studies are Higher Education in Federal Countries, edited with Martin Carnoy, Isak Froumin and Oleg Leshukov (Sage, 2018) and High Participation Systems of Higher Education, edited with Brendan Cantwell and Anna Smolentseva (Oxford University Press, 2018).