This blog was kindly contributed by by Dr. Leeza Osipenko, Dr. Sultan Alotaibi, Alexandra Schuster, Dr. Bernardo Perez and Ksenya Prudyus from the London School of Economics.
Have you been asked to fill out at least one survey related to Covid-19? If not, check your spam folder: thousands of initiatives are taking place around the world to assess social, economic, health, behavioural and other impacts of the pandemic measures.
Does this pandemic threaten higher education or provides daring opportunities? What can we learn from this ordeal and how will we come out of it? Every day, news articles report on challenges facing institutions of higher education: overwhelmed administrators, stressed out staff, shrinking endowments, online exams, job cuts, stuttering zooms, and unmet students’ personal and academic aspirations. Experts and dilettantes speculate about the future direction of higher education in the near term and in the post-pandemic world. We are struggling to understand the present and trying to predict the future having very few reliable anchors.
On one hand, the situation is troubling and the faced disruption is unnerving, on the other, just think for a moment, how privileged we are to have access to technologies to see each other across the oceans, to continue to learn and teach, to have most educational materials at our fingertips, to keep the life, science, learning, progress going against the odds of the circumstances.
Many universities and colleges are running their own data collection projects. There are also network-led surveys such as SERU (Student Experience in the Research University). However, no single initiative will be able to give a comprehensive picture of reality. By design, surveys are self-selecting and prone to bias. Our hope is to try to improve on this.
Meta-analyses of surveys are rarely attempted. Usually, they make no sense and methodologically they might be unfeasible because by trying to combine heterogenous data from different surveys we are likely to violate the temporal setting, unable to match populations and sufficient number of questions to reach meaningful outcomes.
COVID-19 surveys offer an unprecedented opportunity to combine individual level data to enrich the analysis. Whilst there might be a notable variation in design, purpose, and the demographics of the COVID-19 surveys, they are all measuring the impact of the same force majeure situation, at the same time and exploring many similar issues.
In April 2020 LSE, in collaboration with Healthbit, launched a survey to collect experiences of university students and staff around the world and study the impact of the measures taken. Data collection is enabled in 17 languages. We are building a network of international partner universities to lead local data collection and analyses. This will allow us to see how the experiences of the UK students and staff compare with those in other countries, where the university population was impacted the most and the least and in which ways.
Thousands of papers reporting on survey findings will be published, and the publication boom of the COVID-19-related content will stretch for many years into the future. We call for researchers and institutions to come together and share their data sets (anonymised) for enriched pooled analyses where survey design allows (the same demographic, purpose, and outcomes measured). If joint data analyses at the individual level are not possible, we encourage researchers to collate their findings in review publications and cross-compare their findings to inform policy and public debate.
Higher education is going through many similar problems around the world. Big decisions need to be made about near-term arrangements for instruction and research. Difficult choices are facing prospective students until we establish the new ‘normality.’ Will university activities resemble the past or will they be based on principally new approaches to communication, collaboration, networking, teaching, learning and discovering? Let’s explore the options and opinions together.
Our consortium of collaborating universities and the platform created for data collection for the LockedDown can become a fruitful network for other initiatives to study the university population. Please, get in touch with us if you are aware of other data collection initiatives to assess the impact of the pandemic on higher education or have an opinion about the idea for maximising collaboration opportunities for data analysis and reporting of findings.
Share your experience with us by taking part in the LockedDown.