Session highlights

"Most importantly, what Covid-19 has taught us, definitely here in the global North, is about vulnerability -- and it has perhaps put us in a better position to understand the realities of people living in the global South who are coping with and managing various types of uncertainties more or less continuously. It provides a push for management systems that take this reality into account." Solbjørg Sjøveian, Assistant Director, The Knowledge Bank, Section for Research, Innovation and Higher Education, Norad, Norway 

  • In a roundtable session hosted by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, looking at how the pandemic has changed higher education and development, Tania Lima, Director of Global Engagement, King's College London, outlined the results of an external rapid evaluation to assess what had been learned from her institution's response to Covid 19, which highlighted five key interventions: 1) understand where your students are and what devices they are using for learning, 2) promote the learning of digital skills, 3) train your facilitators and teaching staff, 4) the importance of virtual groups for support, and 5) provide a range of different platforms and facilities.
  • Professor Jackson Too, from the Commission for University Education (CUE), Kenya, said that in some ways the pandemic had proved a “blessing in disguise” for higher education in his country, forcing it to move rapidly from a situation where only a quarter of institutions had the capacity to offer and mount their programmes online. An initiative designed to support blended learning, from the FCDO's Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme, has helped to train academics in 21 institutions in preparing online modules, and this has accelerated the uptake of technology for learning.
  • Asked what would be the one thing that needs to change for the future in the wake of the pandemic, Solbjørg Sjøveian, Assistant Director, The Knowledge Bank, Section for Research, Innovation and Higher Education, Norad, Norway, said funders and donors needed to become more flexible in their support for institutions. There also needed to be more backing for digital infrastructure and changes in teaching methodologies.
  • Rebecca Allinson, Managing Partner, Technopolis, UK, outlined initial findings of a study for the British Council and the Association of Commonwealth Universities into how HE partnerships are addressing the SDGs, which has mapped over 100 partnerships across the world. It has highlighted the importance of multidisciplinary approaches; the abrupt impact of the pandemic on mobility in partnerships; the need for a high degree of flexibility and creativity from funders and partners; the importance of maintaining trust in partnerships; and difficulties in establishing new partnerships in the wake of the pandemic. 

Session summary

Since the onset of Covid-19 last year, higher education systems and institutions around the world have faced the challenge of adapting to an environment of unprecedented change and uncertainty.  Many of the long-term trends affecting higher education systems have accelerated rapidly, particularly in relation to how education is delivered, what is expected of educators, and what institutions prioritise.

Within this context, how has the pandemic affected collaborative initiatives focused on higher education and development? Goal 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underlines the importance of partnerships in achieving development outcomes but how has Covid-19 changed perspectives and practice in relation to international higher education partnerships focused on contributing to the other SDGs?  

Hosted by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), whose Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is the UK government's largest single investment in international higher education reform, this roundtable seeks to explore the impact of Covid-19 on higher education and development collaborations and draw out lessons for the future. The session will explore a range of perspectives from development funders and collaborators from the Global North and South on the adaptations that they have made over the past year and how these changes will affect their approach to similar collaborations in the future.

An experienced higher education analyst will be listening to the discussion and will provide a response to the contributors based on emerging findings from a research study commissioned by the British Council and the Association of Commonwealth Universities to understand the role of international higher education partnerships in realising the Sustainable Development Goals. The respondent will draw together the key themes and pose challenges back to the group before the discussion is opened up to the wider audience for further questions and debate.

Speakers

  • Chair: Alicia Herbert, Director for Education, Gender and Equality, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, United Kingdom
  • Rebecca Allinson, Managing Partner, Technopolis, United Kingdom
  • Tania Lima, Director of Global Engagement, King's College London, United Kingdom
  • Solbjørg Sjøveian, Assistant Director, The Knowledge Bank, Section for Research, Innovation and Higher Education, Norad, Norway
  • Prof. Jackson Too, Commission for University Education (CUE), Kenya