Covid-19: University students not dropping out despite disruption

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

student Covid tests

image copyrightAndrew Milligan

image captionStudents have been getting Covid tests this week ahead of going home in the “travel window”

The number of students dropping out of their university courses across the UK has been lower this term than in previous years.

Despite the pressures of the pandemic and campus lockdowns, figures from the Student Loans Company show a fall in those leaving this autumn.

About 5,500 students withdrew from courses, compared with 6,100 last year.

The figures have been released on the day that the “travel window” opens for students to go home for Christmas.

The lower drop-out rate reflects the lack of any better alternatives this year, suggested Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank.

“What else are you going to do? You can’t travel and it’s hard to get a job,” he said.

“It’s not been as good a year as normal for students, but there are still lots of positives,” Mr Hillman added.

Nine-week gap

But many students heading home this week will not be returning to their universities for another nine weeks – as the government in England announced a staggered start to next term, with some students not back until 7 February.

image copyrightReuters
image captionStudents have been asked to take two tests three days apart ahead of travelling

The plan, to avoid a surge of students and the risk of spreading coronavirus, will see students returning over five weeks in the new year – with most courses starting online before a return to in-person teaching.

  • Mass testing for students gets under way

  • Two Covid tests for students and then leave in 24 hours

The first students returning from 4 to 8 January will be for hands-on, practical courses which are difficult to teach solely online – which will include medicine, nursing and dentistry; sciences which need to use laboratories; or music, dance and drama.

Other subjects, such as English or history, would be taught online at the start of term, with students back between 25 January and 7 February.

Students will be offered two lateral flow Covid tests when they arrive back – similar to the process for their departure.

image captionMomoh will be getting Covid tests and then heading home to Manchester

Momoh Suleman, studying social work at the University of Bradford, is sympathetic to the need for the delayed start – although wants something to be arranged about paying rent when he won’t be there.

“It’s the best idea to keep our families safe,” he said, and on balance he said it was right to have a staggered return if it reduced the risk of infection.

He is having two Covid tests this week before getting the train home to Manchester – and can’t wait to see his family, having decided it was safer not to see them during the term.

“I didn’t want to

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University of Surrey to lower entry grades in recognition of Covid disruption | University of Surrey

The University of Surrey has become the latest higher education institution to lower its entry requirements for next year in recognition of the disruption to education caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Entry grades will be reduced by one grade for most undergraduate programmes starting in September 2021 to help relieve the pressure and anxiety faced by young people who will have had their learning significantly disrupted across two academic years.

Last week the University of Birmingham also announced it planned to reduce entry requirements for 2021 by one grade, meaning pressure on other universities to follow suit is likely to grow.

Lizzie Burrows, the director of recruitment and admissions at the University of Surrey, said: “We are taking this action now to relieve the pressure and anxiety facing this year’s applicants, as they experience ongoing disruption and uncertainty surrounding exams and assessment of their learning.

“By taking this step, we can provide one additional element of certainty and reassurance that these students will be protected from unfair disadvantage as a result of the impact of the pandemic.”

Degree programmes that are not included are regulated courses such as veterinary medicine, foundation year courses, four-year integrated master’s programmes and audition-based performance courses, which will retain the same entry requirements.

Experts have said that GCSE and A-level exams should be replaced with teacher assessments next year because of coronavirus disruption.

The Independent Sage group, chaired by former government chief scientific adviser David King, is calling for all primary school tests to be cancelled and for secondary school exams to be replaced with assessments by teachers with suitable moderation.

In the Commons last week, the education minister, Nick Gibb, said the government was working to ensure 2021 exams were fair, but that more details would be published shortly.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, made a humiliating U-turn this summer over Ofqual’s “centre-assessed grades”, which had used an algorithm to moderate A-level teacher-assessed grades partly in recognition of schools’ historic performance and was widely seen to disadvantage higher achievers at lower achieving schools.

Birmingham University’s vice-chancellor, Prof David Eastwood, last week said many prospective first years in the class of 2021 were likely to experience more than a year of interrupted learning by the time they sat their exams next summer. He said he hoped reducing the entry requirements would “alleviate anxieties”.

Earlier this month, Wales called off end-of-year GCSE and A-level tests for students this academic year. The Labour-controlled government said it would work with schools and colleges to put in place teacher-managed assessments as it was the fairest way given that the time students spend in school or college could vary greatly.

There have been calls for education institutions to work to lower grade requirements for disadvantaged students in particular, since many will have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Source Article

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George Mason University To Tackle Retail Industry Disruption With New Center

The retail industry was already facing dramatic disruptions before the coronavirus pandemic devastated the industry, and a new academic institution hopes to help small and midsized retailers survive. 

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George Mason University’s Fairfax, Virginia, campus.

George Mason University’s School of Business has launched the Center for Retail Transformation, aimed at providing research, events and a talent pipeline to the struggling industry, the school announced last week.

The center will be led by Gautham Vadakkepatt, who has spent the last decade in academia focused on marketing and has advised retailers on business strategy. He is putting together an advisory board of 30 retail industry professionals to guide the center. 

“We started talking about the center before COVID, but definitely COVID has accelerated the need of a center such as this, focused on small- and medium-sized retailers,” Vadakkepatt said. “They are struggling. The hope is this institution can help in some way.”

The center currently offers one class, an undergraduate course on retail management. It plans to roll out several additional classes for undergraduate and graduate students to study various aspects of retail in hopes of creating a pipeline of young professionals who are knowledgeable about the industry. 

It also plans to host conferences, workshops and executive training programs to convene retail leaders and experts to discuss the challenges the industry faces. And it will conduct research that it hopes will help retail executives make decisions about their businesses. 

“We’re hoping to build a mutually beneficial, collaborative ecosystem here that provides a workforce-ready talent pool as well as cutting-edge research for the retail space,” Vadakkepatt said. 

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Courtesy of George Mason University

Gautham Vadakkepatt, the director of George Mason University’s Center for Retail Transformation.

Vadakkepatt sees a host of challenges with the retail industry that he wants the center to address. 

He thinks legacy retailers have been too slow in adapting to the way e-commerce has changed consumer behavior and that many of the bankruptcies in the sector could have been avoided if retailers had pursued a better strategy. 

“Now with the advent of the internet, finding the product is not the issue, so what is valuable to the customer has changed,” he said. “The retailers have been mostly reactive, especially some of the legacy retailers, hence the bankruptcies.”

He said the pain that many retail companies have faced has been a result of overextending their real estate footprint. 

“The number of stores is too much, and the sizes of stores is perhaps too large,” he said. “Retailers could absolutely avoid some of these things by retaining the focus on evolving customer needs and rightsizing themselves.”

The pandemic has exacerbated many of the difficulties retail faced before this year, pushing more people to order products online and discouraging activities that bring them together.

Vadakkepatt said he thinks the pandemic will have long-term effects, such as accelerating the shift to e-commerce and forcing retailers to change their business model. He also said it had a silver lining in that it made retailers more willing to

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Education Disruption Brings School Digital Strategies Into Focus

Al Kingsley is MD of NetSupport, Chair of 2 Multi-Academy Trusts in the UK and a regular presenter on all things #EdTech.  @AlKingsley_edu.

With education thrown into disarray by the pandemic, the challenge of providing teaching and learning for K-12 students has been — and continues to be — immense.

Even before the virus made such an impact, many schools had already realized that a growing array of apps and solutions — that they sometimes only used for a short time before abandoning for the next best thing — was not the way to achieve meaningful, technology-enhanced teaching and learning experiences for their students. These were the schools that had defined (or were in the process of defining) a sustainable, pedagogy-driven, whole-school digital strategy for the longer term.

It is, of course, no surprise that they could move more easily to an online learning model than others that had not yet reached this point. But even they were not prepared to review how they could update their strategies to support the new demands of education.

Putting The Pieces Together

High-quality lesson content is paramount, and dedicated teachers across the country have gone all out to plan and shape their lessons for online delivery. But it is not just a matter of switching on the webcam and broadcasting them to students. Online learning is a complex beast that brings with it the need for enhanced communication alongside effective collaboration — not just with students, but with parents, colleagues, school leaders and counselors.

Balancing all these things is crucial if this model of learning is to succeed. So, it is vital that a school has the infrastructure, training and support from the whole school community in place to ensure it has flexible communication and collaboration tools included in its digital strategy, as well as the mechanisms to deliver learning.

The best communication apps will help to increase productivity, visibility and collaboration, rather than create more friction by cluttering inboxes. Cloud solutions can aid collaboration between colleagues, whether by facilitating the shared creating and editing of documents or through the use of comms and collaborative apps such as Slack, Teams or Trello.

Digital strategy practicalities

When creating your digital strategy, my recommendation is to, first, step back, reflect and be totally honest about what your school’s priorities are so you can see which areas need the most attention.

Thanks to Covid-19, there are even more points to add to your checklist now, such as digital equity challenges, blended learning CPD for staff, finding the “right” learning tools that tick the boxes for pedagogy and online safety, and agreeing on effective tools for remote assessment — alongside contingency plans for when staff and students do not have connectivity. Even though the last point is not strictly “digital,” it must factor into your strategy in the interests of students who are disadvantaged by circumstance, not by ability or choice.

Ensuring your school has the infrastructure to support varied learning scenarios is more important than

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