Over the past several months – amid this second wave of the pandemic – I have increasingly been asked, “How will COVID-19 change the future of higher education?”
It is a great question, and one that I have been thinking a lot about as well. The pandemic has undoubtedly created new challenges, but it has also accelerated trends already evident as a result of automation and artificial intelligence. We know, for example, that there will be an increasing demand for upgrading and reskilling as some jobs disappear and others emerge. We will need to offer even more diverse credentials and flexible delivery to accommodate working professionals.
While most domestic and international students have made it clear that the in-person component of their university experience is irreplaceable, many students have expressed interest in hybrid programming options that make it easier to balance studies, work and family responsibilities. Since last March, we have put even more thought into what this could look like, particularly in terms of global engagement and experiential learning.
We have already experienced some early success. One great example is the ShopHERE program, launched last summer in partnership with the City of Toronto. One hundred students from our Schulich School of Business worked with local retailers to move their businesses online. In addition to benefiting local communities, it gave students a unique hands-on learning experience, building invaluable skills and workforce connections.
The imperative of strengthening our collaboration with other educational institutions, government, the private sector and not-for-profits has been amplified by COVID-19, but it has long been a priority for York. Through our new University Plan 2020–2025: Building a Better Future, we continue to seek out strategic partnerships to maximize the impact of our research on critical global issues captured in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Our Global Strategy Lab (GSL), for example, draws upon the strengths of both York’s Faculty of Health and our Osgoode Hall Law School, where Director Steven Hoffman is jointly appointed. In November, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the GSL’s designation as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance. Working with institutional partners around the world, the centre helps identify solutions to the pressing problem of antimicrobial resistance.
Over the course of 2020, we also witnessed the destructiveness of systemic racism, including anti-Black and anti-Indigenous discrimination. The University and our faculty, staff and students have recommitted to creating a more just future, including by understanding the differential impacts of the pandemic on underserved communities.
Throughout these challenges, York has remained committed to our vision to provide a broad demographic of students with access to a high-quality, research-intensive university committed to the public good. Our ability to adapt and thrive during a global pandemic is a testament to our inventiveness, resilience and compassion. As I reflect on the possibilities before us this new year, I am confident that – in true York spirit – we will continue finding ways to drive positive change in our own communities and around the world. ■