Right the first time: academics’ pandemic responses

People were alarmed and exhausted by the impact of COVID-19 – and that was when the worst was yet to come

The Australian section of a six-nation survey conducted June-July last year found 77.6 per cent of respondents, “suffering from digital fatigue” 69.3 per cent believing COVID-19 had “intensified top-down governance” and 59.6 per cent feeling “weakened trust in university leaders.”

A paper based on the survey focuses on whether the pandemic — and institutional responses, “were intensifying already established trends in higher education as a result of marketisation.” *

Respondents were certainly concerned about employment, with 76 per cent “fearful for their current job”, and 80 per cent predicting “increased casualisation.”

And they weren’t expecting help from people in power. “As elucidated by our respondents government appeared to abandon the sector and university leadership were seen to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce costs,” the survey-researchers state.

But there was some optimism, 66 per cent of respondents enjoyed working remotely. “Working from home was seen to have benefits for both staff and employer if done properly.”

Overall, people thought COVID-19 would mean permanent change, “there was a sense that campus life, student life, academic work and society at large would be unalterably transformed … and that strategic virtual student and collegial sites could be developed in the way that already happens in many other areas of contemporary society such as on-line shopping, dating and banking.”

* Fiona McGaughey (UWA), Richard Watermeyer (Uni Bristol), Kalpana Shankar (Uni College Dublin), Venkata Ratnadeep (Indraprastha IIT), Cathryn Knight (Swansea U), Tom Crick (Swansea U), Joanne Hardman (Uni Cape Town), Dean Phelan (Maynooth U) and Roger Chung (Chinese U of HK), ‘This can’t be the new norm’: academics’ perspectives on the COVID-19 crisis for the Australian University Sector Higher Education Research and Development (September 2021)