3 June 2021
by Simon Marginson

University Challenged – The Pandemic, Fees and Students

The French Education and Research System was already facing acute challenges before the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic has further weakened the country’s universities, adding to the existing structural difficulties. Is the French case unique? Institut Montaigne’s series University Challenged is an attempt to compare what is happening to universities in France to universities in other countries: are they facing the same challenges? If so, are their answers to these challenges the same? Simon Marginson looks at the UK’s strategy forthe UK’s Higher Education and Research system and offers his analysis on how the Covid-19 pandemic has put new financial stress on the country’s universities and students.

One factor that France and the UK have in common is that the longer term implications of the pandemic for higher education, and the nature of the post-pandemic era (if there is one), are unclear. Despite all the talk about renewal or transformations – whether self-generated, or forced on the sector by zealous governments, student disillusionment or iron necessity – there is not even the faintest trace of a reform blueprint to be seen.

It is clear that we will have more and better online courses in the future, but students really want to return to face-to-face education for both pedagogical and social reasons. It is clear there will be more homeworking and outworking and casualization, but physical site and plant will continue. It is clear that there will be less short-haul plane flights. It is likely that there will be a highly restrictive fiscal climate, because of the public debts incurred by the government during the pandemic. Additional costs could be imposed on students in both countries – in that respect the circumstances will be like 2008-2011 – but there are electoral political limits to the extent that governments can cut university funding and increase student fees. The social and demographic pressures driving the growth of higher education in all countries will continue, especially if there is higher unemployment.

You can read the full blog post on the Institut Montaigne website here.