It is evident the Coronavirus epidemic will lead to some long term, systemic changes to the way government and society operate. Not only has it shown that some of the policies and assumptions that successive governments have followed have insufficiently prepared us for a time when numerous crisis emerge together (in this context a health crisis and an economic crisis) but that the values that we have on job occupations and the way we emphasize and the need for human connection are far greater than we understood. Indeed, online working, collaborations over the phone, and even Face Time-ing relatives can leave us all feeling that there is a bit of a hole in our day-to-day lived experiences.
Repaying the costs of the Coronavirus will be with many countries for many decades. These are not just the economic costs but the societal costs of people losing their jobs, the impact on graduates seeking work, and on what roles we need to fill future occupations. The virus is furthering online debate and discussion about the kind of World we want to create. The measurement of any society will be the dignity with which it supports and develops individuals and families who have hit a low ebb because of this crisis, and the way it continues to continue debates surrounding how we start to live the values that we are now all recognising as so vital in a time of crisis.
Where does this leave the role of higher-level education and skills? Many people will be using these days indoors to reflect on their lives and what they might do next, especially if they have been made redundant or feel a call to find a different vocational route for themselves. There will be many adults seeking to retrain and to develop new approaches to things. There is a real opportunity for collaboration to support such people through Access to HE programmes, and to collaborate across Further and Higher Education to provide a way of making more learning available to individuals seeking to forge a different path. The opportunity for that collaboration across the skills sector to grow and develop now we all seek further ways to connect will provide opportunities to develop new ways of supporting academic and vocational students progressing to HE so that the most vulnerable are not left behind.
This crisis has demonstrated that society has real compassion to protect the most vulnerable and, while we do that every day in our work, the opportunity to collaborate to make that better must not be overlooked. Indeed, if as Gregson (2015) says, ‘learning is a social activity’ then our chances to improve collaboration to promote higher-level education to adults and sign its praises to younger people must be taken so that we, across all of further and higher education, become the engine to generate the dignity people will need as they start to face a very different future.
Robin Webber-Jones is a FACE Exec member and Vice Principal HE and Academic Studies at The Sheffield College
Photo by Markus Spiske