IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


VIRTUAL EVENT: What if… our education system changed for good in light of COVID-19? Part 3

02 July 2020, 5:45 pm–6:45 pm

University students in the UCL Student Centre. Photo by Matt Clayton for UCL

Part 3: Higher education. How will the university sector need to change and how can it ensure lasting positive consequences?

This event is free.

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Kate Thomas

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Our universities have swiftly mobilised their research expertise, as well as their final-year nursing and medical students, to help stem the tide of COVID-19. But they are set to be deeply impacted by the pandemic themselves. 

The prospect of sudden significant falls in international student numbers threatens to change the face of our universities dramatically, in the process weakening their financial viability.

This has in turn placed the competitive, market-based system for the recruitment of UK-based students in a new light. Speculation continues as to whether all institutions and the diversity of roles they serve will survive or how the government will manage the risk that they do not.

Perhaps the biggest immediate question facing the sector concerns online learning. While this offers greater resilience and flexibility in the face of possibly reoccurring travel restrictions and social distancing measures to protect health, its longer-term appeal and efficacy at scale remain to be tested. Meanwhile, the need for the sector to attend to matters of diversity and inclusion have far from disappeared.

Can our university sector adapt to what will be a very different context, and in anything like its current form? How should it change in order to better serve students and wider society for the years to come?


  • Paul Ashwin, Professor of Higher Education, University of Lancaster
  • Allison Littlejohn Professor and Director of Knowledge Lab, UCL Institute of Education 
  • Aaron Porter, Associate Director (Governance), Advance HE
  • David Willetts, President, Resolution Foundation
  • Chair: Sue Rogers, Interim Director, UCL Institute of Education

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In association with TES


Image: Matt Clayton for UCL