Phil Syrpis Profile picture
15 Oct, 24 tweets, 4 min read
A long thread (sorry) about Universities and the response to COVID-19. It's very much a personal view. 1/22
I'm not going to go through the history - on that, I whole-heartedly recommend @gsoh31's blog (below). Instead, I focus on some of the steps which led us to where we are today.… 2/
Since March we have had... (1) the last-minute move to online teaching for the end of the 19/20 academic year, with online assessments in May/June and August/September. Exams and exam rules rewritten, with staff working from home to process them. 3/
(2) Big budget cuts imposed by central University management, in the anticipation of lower numbers of, in particular, international students this year. Many staff with contracts not renewed, and in many institutions, redundancies. 4/
(3) The chaos surrounding A level results, which in some institutions has led to many courses over-shooting their intake targets (sometimes by substantial margins). This has led to a scramble to recruit staff, and to find accommodation for students. 5/
(4) A wholesale shift to 'blended learning'. Units and programmes have been redesigned so that they work with much (even all) content accessible and deliverable online. Academics' summer has been devoted to this task, with all other work 'deprioritised'. 6/
(5) Huge efforts to make campuses COVID-secure, with the provision of guidance, masks and visors, health and safety audits etc, to enable some face to face learning to occur on campus. 7/
It has been a lot. Colleagues are exhausted.

And, as term begins, another set of problems have - just as many have been predicting - eg @ucu - emerged. 8/
Our incoming first-year students have, like everyone else, had a difficult summer. They have had to deal with a disrupted education, and the chaos surrounding A level grades and University entrance. 9/
And on arrival at many Universities, they have, within a matter of days, found that COVID is spreading through halls of residence, meaning that they are either ill or having to self-isolate in very unfamiliar surroundings. 10/
The online classes are working well, and seem to be well-received. But face to face classes are having to be rearranged and/or moved online at short notice as we receive news that more and more students and staff have tested positive or are self-isolating. 11/
Systems are under pressure, and it is inevitable that many students' learning is likely to be significantly disrupted. A University community in which 1000s are self-isolating in shared accommodation is not able to function as it should. 12/
What is interesting is why this has happened. I think it is a - very sad - symptom of the wider problems we as a society face in dealing with the virus. 13/
My view is that it has happened because the Uni sector - like others - is strongly committed to 'the way things are'. It wants to deliver as 'normal' an education as it has been able to do in previous years. 14/
It wants students on campus, face to face teaching, accommodation blocks full, fee income received. Financially, it depends on student numbers. Reputationally, it has to deliver a world beating student experience. 15/
It has not been able to come to terms with the fact that - for now at least - things will not be 'normal'. And it has not made what seem to me to be sensible adjustments. 16/
This month and last, over 2 million students moved around the country (and world) to congregate in UK towns and cities to live together in shared accommodation. In the middle of a pandemic. 17/
That - to me - sounds insane. And yet it happened. Why? So that life could go on as normal and students could experience University life. 18/
Could they not have stayed put and continued their learning online? Of course, learning would have been suboptimal. And University finances would have suffered. But it could have been done. 19/
But it would have required the Govt and the leadership of the sector to come together, and agree a set of priorities and some sort of financial plan. 20/
That - of course - seems like an impossible dream. Neither the Govt nor the sector leaders seem to be able to plan ahead, and anticipate likely problems. So we continue to lurch from crisis to crisis. 21/
And as I write, the top University news is a bizarre plan to ensure that students can go home for Christmas. There are a lot of problems which need rather more urgent attention. 22/22
PS On the (substantial) public health impact of Higher Education, and the movement of students, see also
And also this...…

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More from @syrpis

17 Oct
The stand-off between @BorisJohnson and @AndyBurnhamGM is developing into something very interesting. Thread. 1/9
Number 10's plan has some appeal. Given where we are with COVID, and the big variation in case numbers, it makes sense, in public health terms, to have a local response. 2/9
It also makes sense, this time in a political sense, to share, or to pass, responsibility for tighter restrictions on to local politicians (I think Michael Portillo made this point on Question Time). 3/9
Read 9 tweets
15 Oct
Today's Brexit news does not come as a surprise. There has, once again, been no meaningful progress. It is *very easy* to see why. And December approaches. 1/8
In a negotiation, it pays to understand the position of the other side. The EU side has struggled to understand the position of the UK. The UK side has made next to no effort to understand position of the EU. 2/8
The UK is asking for *both* unfettered regulatory freedom and unfettered access to the EU market. Given the EU's - unambiguous - insistence on the integrity of the single market, and the realities of international trade, that is an impossible ask. 3/8
Read 8 tweets
13 Oct
Just had the misfortune to see @RobertJenrick's interview on the BBC. 1/12
The rhetoric goes like this: We are at a moment of maximum danger. We have hard choices to make. We will work closely with local leaders. And, wait for it, we have devised a new framework. 2/
This new 3 tier framework (with the country divided into 'medium', 'high' and 'very high') has been getting lots of attention. But, it has not been properly scrutinised. 3/
Read 14 tweets
8 Oct
As per usual, moved to tweet out of frustration born of watching the news. This is on the new '3 tier coronavirus restrictions'. The acknowledged urgent need is to provide people with clarity.

That's a good start. It doesn't last. 1/8
One can imagine the delight in Whitehall as the 'traffic light system' was first proposed. Clear and simple. Red, amber, green. Divide the country into 3 zones. Have stricter rules where the case numbers are highest. 2/
The usual suspects in the press were duly alerted. Boris would be bringing - if not good news - then at least some clarity.

But... it appears that the plan has yet to be fully thought through. 3/
Read 9 tweets
6 Oct
I know nothing about off-shore wind, so I was, ahem, blown away by some of the PM's claims.

But I have 3 questions. 1/4
First, are there any geographical reasons why the UK is best placed to harness the power of the wind? If not, why are other countries missing the boat so spectacularly, and will they continue to do so into the 2030s? 2/4
Second, isn't it easier and cheaper and more efficient to have the windfarms onshore, or close to the shore, rather than in the middle of the deepest oceans? Or does the wind there have special qualities which cannot be harnessed closer the shore? 3/4
Read 4 tweets
2 Oct
Might the Brexit talks be about to enter 'the tunnel'? Is high-level political intervention going to enable a deal to be reached? Some thoughts - focused on the UK side. 1/13
My first thought is that a deal *can* be reached. The UK could have one of many relationships with the EU, depending on the UK's preference. The EU will insist on a balance between rights and responsibilities (and there will be a battle over how that balance is struck). 2/
This could be anything from membership of the EEA, to a comprehensive 'trade +' deal, to a more thin free trade agreement. The more the UK wants easy access to the EU market, the more rules it will have to agree to be bound by. 3/
Read 13 tweets

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