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  • Writer's pictureSerena Hathhotuwa

The Impact of the Pandemic on Academia

I think everyone would agree that the global pandemic has had an effect on every section of society. One part of society which has been particularly affected is the world of academia. When you say the word ‘academic’, many envision images of scholars and young students walking the halls of universities and libraries, which to many people is a privilege.

However, during the global pandemic, academics have not been able to experience universities in this way due to government restrictions. This has affected the ability of academics to research effectively and has brought to light questions about the real ‘value’ of higher education, confirming that ‘the academic world’ is a space available to only a select group of people. In contrast, the pandemic has revealed that online academic events allow groups who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend, due to their socio-economic or geographical location, engage with academia.

For many academics, the ability to travel freely to different countries and universities for events, lectures and research is a crucial part of their lives. Many people assume academia only affects the lives of university students and those who engage directly with it. In reality, academic work affects every aspect of life and the research of academics helps businesses, governments and organisations make important decisions that affect everyone in society. We have seen no clearer indication of the power of this research than with the government’s reliance on academic work during the pandemic and indeed in the creation of Oxford University’s AstraZeneca vaccine. In this sense, when academia is affected, the rest of society is also affected.

In addition, the pandemic has brought to light questions of whether higher education is still good ‘value’ for money. In the UK, we have seen tuition fees increase to the detriment of young people. In 2010, fees almost tripled to £9000 a year and then increased to £9225 in 2016. Higher education in the UK has become increasingly non-inclusive and for many people, is one of the biggest investments of their life.

In light of the pandemic, university students today are not having the same experience as their previous years of study or as students before them. Many events and rights of passage such as ‘freshers week’ have all been cancelled and many lectures had been put online, students missing opportunities to make friends and build relationships with their lecturers. Since the introduction of tuition fees, we have seen an ongoing debate about the ‘value’ of higher education and whether an academic education is worth the amount students are currently paying. Arguably, the pandemic has reiterated the gross expense of higher education and shown how it’s often not worth the amount students pay whilst isolating low-income people in society who feel they could never afford it.

Despite this, other academic events have been put online when they otherwise wouldn’t have, opening up the possibility for people to join from different countries, backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. In this sense, the pandemic has revealed that ‘going virtual’ is more inclusive in academia and breaks down discrimination inflicted by social factors and extortionate tuition fees imposed by our own government.

In short, It is clear that academia has been impacted by the pandemic and this may affect all aspects of society. The inability of students to go to lectures has raised questions about the overall value of a degree whilst increased tuition fees over the past two decades have created a reputation of elitism in academia. Despite this, the pandemic has shown us that online events and lectures which are accessible to all people could be a solution to challenging the issue of discrimination in the academic world.

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