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Cold Calling Students

Students enter the „Natio Germanica Bononiae“, the german nation at the university of Bologna, image from the 15th century

I learn today that a poll, of over 30,000 students from around the world who are intending to study abroad, has showed 57% are experiencing disruptions to their study plans. This number is up on the 46% returned when QS ran a similar survey in April. Given the effect Covid is having on day to day life, the only surprise here is that the number facing disruption isn’t higher.

Yet what seems to be creating the greatest consternation and alarm in academic circles is not that students are facing disruption, but that 29% of the survey respondents are intending to delay or cancel their future plans for overseas study. The cause? The shift to online learning is falling well short of the standards expected of the world’s leading universities.

Those most affected by the surge to online teaching are in the post-graduate realm, who overwhelmingly favour face-to-face seminars. This contrasts with undergraduates who are almost evenly split. Thinking back to my own time in undergraduate lectures, about half the room were clearly not present in spirit, though there in person. Thus if anything, I would have expected more to be in favour of online tuition so they can spend their time wrapped in social media’s loving embrace rather than being cold called by a lecturer rude enough to rouse them from their post-lunch stupor.

In conversation with one distinguished academic, I asked about their current teaching routine, which they confessed to be a surreal experience. Technical hurdles not withstanding, from a didactic standpoint they were not sure what they are accomplishing, but one thing is for certain: they are not teaching.

This speaks to perhaps Covid’s longest legacy – accelerated intellectual decline. In an age in which literacy, though technically more widespread than ever, is steadily declining, the shift to online learning is only deepening an established trend in the race to the bottom for student outcomes. Out are the days when a student would be failed for poor performance, and in is the insistence on degrees for all so long as the tuition fees are paid.

But all is hopefully not lost, for while the line between the Socratic acceptance of the limits of our knowledge and genuine ignorance is being blurred, the financial rapaciousness of the university system knows no bounds. In such an atmosphere, the QS study revealing that 77% of students surveyed would expect a discount for online tuition should hopefully shift universities into action to maintain their P&L.

Where declining literacy has failed to stimulate changes in academia, perhaps a global pandemic and loss of revenue may succeed.


Universität Bologna Deutsche Nation is licensed under Public Domain.

This post is day 037 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. If you want to get involved, you can get more info from 100daystooffload.com.


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