Global education systems will face ‘a reckoning’ if they do not meet the needs of students and societies, and have to challenge their assumptions in a post-COVID-19 world, experts warned at the launch of a Qatar Foundation-commissioned research report on what higher education institutions must do to overcome challenges and survive.

The report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) titled New schools of thought: Innovative models for delivering higher education emphasises how dwindling public funding, questions over the value of higher education, and technology’s potential to automate jobs are combining to place institutions under intense and increasing pressure.

EIU Report Cover PageWith the COVID-19 pandemic forcing universities to embrace online learning and disrupting traditional ways of delivering education, the report analyses how five innovative higher education models are addressing social, political, and economic challenges – highlighting how institutions must rethink the education they offer, and adapt to the demands of a rapidly-changing world.

As the report was unveiled, education thought-leaders from three continents explored its findings and exchanged their views on the future of education in an online panel discussion, Higher Education in a Post-COVID-19 World, hosted by the EIU and sponsored by Qatar Foundation.

In a video message screened at the start of the panel discussion, HE Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, Vice Chairperson and CEO of Qatar Foundation, said that the global education system is a well-oiled machine – too well-oiled. She said that we were so used to the way things were that we can’t imagine them otherwise.

The good news is that we know what change looks like, because we are in the middle of it today. If this pandemic has proved anything, it is that we, as a society, can change. Things that were impossible are suddenly possible.

She said that we owe it to our children and grandchildren to change what we know is not working.

Today, the new page is no longer just a dream. Let’s have the courage to truly be seekers of knowledge.

Ben Nelson, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute in the US, said that we have to be honest with ourselves and realise that when societies and students are interfacing with institutions and not getting what they are paying for, there is going to be a reckoning – it’s crucial in this period of transition during COVID-19, but will also be crucial afterwards.

Students now have an extraordinary responsibility because they can vote with their feet in a way they have never been able to do before. For the first time in living memory, the role of the student is that of a determinant partner – determining what universities should be doing, and which ones should have the right to serve them going forward.

Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor of the Open University in the UK, said the ‘shelf-life of knowledge’ is getting shorter.

While discovering new knowledge and innovating remain incredibly important, the fundamental issue is that everyone has to have the ability to become a life-long learner – to keep on learning, apply their knowledge, and put it to use.

He added that our approach to research, teaching and learning has to adapt to the very different type of knowledge world we are in.

Meanwhile, Francisco Marmolejo, Education Advisor at Qatar Foundation, said during the discussion that we have to be very serious about recognising whether what we are doing today is really up to the standards of the future.

Do students learn due to, despite, or independently of what we teach them? Are rankings as important as we think they are? What is education about? Do we still believe a simple grade is the best way to measure learning?

All of these are assumptions, according to him, we seriously need to challenge, because unless we do that, disrupt, and are willing to take risks, as soon as conditions return to some sort of normal, we may try to be the same as we were before.

This crisis is telling us (that) we no longer have the luxury of assuming things will be as they used to be.

The event was chaired by Claire Casey, Global Managing Director of Public Policy at EIU. The report is now available to download through this LINK