Student Primacy and the Post Pandemic University
Stupple, Edward J. N.
According to the noted economist, Joseph Schumpeter, a period of creative destruction ensures long standing market arrangements are destroyed and in doing so resources are freed up to drive innovation. The results of this period of change can be dramatic with the so called “dominant design”—the market entity that drives behaviour in a specific consumer space—facing a weakening of its dominant position, invariably contending with threats from competitors and ultimately being forced to change its business processes to survive in the market (Schubert, 2013). Many would argue that the Covid 19 pandemic has forced such a process on the global higher education sector. While the sector gradually returns to some semblance of normality it is an opportune time to take stock of traditional practices and reflect on whether they can exist to serve the new university after this period of creative destruction has ended (see e.g., Krishnamurthy, 2020; Benito et al., 2021). Taking the above in hand focus must now turn to addressing a significant question: how can a university facilitate the primacy of the student to ensure that they are guided to make the right choice in joining a programme of study? In the traditional Higher Education (HE) sector, where the drive for marketisation is legion, this is a fairly complex question. However, the arrival of the pandemic landscape where the sector is likely to be faced with the unenviable task of making significant resource allocations in the context of so many unknown factors this question becomes Sisyphean in nature (Zhao and Watterston, 2021). The full extent of the impact socially, politically and economically alongside the cost to human life is yet to unfold. Nonetheless, the HE sector and more generally everyday life has been severely impacted. Internationally, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have moved to “remote” or “online” learning models where the campus has been “locked down” in wake of the spread of the virus and moved to the homes of students, academics and support staff. We are still in an age of uncertainty, and the move back to the campus with regular face-to-face teaching is unknown as the global sector is locked into strategies of social isolation and distancing. Whilst HEIs are in the process of navigating their way through the crisis, the impact on student engagement with higher learning has not received much focus. University administrators must now answer a fundamental question. Do the traditional market principals and processes that have been much loved by sector managers carry as much value, if any, than they did in the pre-pandemic era? Furthermore what role, if any, does the undergraduate student play in this new and possibly very exciting environment? The United Kingdom HE sector has already seen student led protests calling for “no detriment” safeguards to protect grades and rent strikes on campus accommodation. This has put HEIs under increasing pressure to transform their current practices, but does this signal a move towards exposing the power of students as consumers in changing the higher education landscape or rather it merely identifies the established primacy of the student in the modern university (Jones et al., 2020)?