20 May 2020, The Tablet

Higher education changed ‘forever’

Higher education changed ‘forever’

St Mary’s University graduation in Westminster Cathedral in July 2019.

The heads of England’s Catholic universities have spoken to The Tablet of their plans for the next academic year, and their ongoing efforts to provide financial and emotional support to staff and students.

With all the major Catholic higher education institutions moving to online tuition, the new vice-chancellor of St Mary’s University, Anthony McClaran, warned that higher education could be changed forever by the pandemic. 

“The move online really asked us to consider what needs to be face to face and what can be delivered in other ways. I, frankly, wonder whether the sector will ever go back to large, face to face lectures. I think this is leading to a very positive reevaluation of how we teach, what works, what's the most effective way of doing things,” he said.

“We're going to be looking at a future that is blended: it will be more of a mixture of face to face and really good quality online tuition,” he predicted.

He said that international students – who, for St Mary’s, are predominantly based in Europe and the US – could be hit by travel restrictions, but were still keen to attend, although some might look to delay until January. He said that, amid economic uncertainty and an unstable jobs market, the University had seen an upturn in students looking to upgrade their qualifications, including a significant increase in interest in teacher training courses.

Professor Margaret House, vice-chancellor at Leeds Trinity University, told The Tablet that the university was seeking to support students’ mental health through its chaplaincy. Leeds Trinity is in a strong financial position, she said, and did not plan to furlough staff. It has committed to paying for all the work scheduled to take place before the end of the academic year, including that undertaken by people on casual contracts. 

“This reflects our desire to support our staff and contribute as best we can to the national effort to overcome this crisis in a manner befitting our values and ethos as a University,” she added.    

Professor Jackie Dunne, Vice-Chancellor, Newman University Birmingham, told The Tablet that it had “radically transformed” the way it taught in a short timeframe. 

“As a University with a strong Catholic heritage and identity, both our values and the principles of Catholic social teaching are always at the forefront of our planning and decision making,” she said.

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