By Professor Craig Mahoney

THE challenges presented by coronavirus will surpass anything many of us will experience in our lifetimes. But as Lord Kelvin noted more than 100 years ago: “When you are face to face with adversity, you are up against a discovery.”

Every industry or sector has been affected. In higher education, campuses have closed, while lectures, seminars, workshops and classes have been transferred online and vital research and innovation postponed.

It is unsurprising that students are considering their options for this academic year. According to a recent report, around one in five prospective students are thinking about deferring their places at university. However, I truly believe that for students, the time to begin their university journeys should, and still can, be now.

In the last few months, all universities have had to rethink and completely overhaul pedagogy, with higher education institutions across the globe implementing significant changes to learning and teaching with much greater use of technology and adapted assessments.

Higher education is embarking on a “new normal” following this pandemic and lockdown. For all university leaders, the tremendous pressures we have been under during this time have been balanced by the multitude of inspiring examples of fantastic online learning and teaching, the speed at which academics and students alike have adapted and the creative approaches taken to protect the student learning and experience and provide the best possible support in challenging circumstances.

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, the use of technology to support learning, including the use of online platforms, will continue, but for most universities they will not be the sole method of delivery. The return to our Covid-19 secure campuses will enable a hybrid blend of online and face-to-face learning and teaching together with the integration of more practice-based assessment. The global pandemic has provided a significant lever for a pedagogic paradigm shift and a greater realisation of the benefits technology-enabled curriculum provides to learning, teaching and the student experience, as well as staff and student wellbeing, which would not have been possible 10 years ago.

I am also a strong supporter of the use of real-world assessments and an advocate for technology-enabled learning. Pedagogic models typically used in our university systems have remained static for some time. The outcome from this pandemic is almost certainly a more widespread review of how learning and teaching is delivered in our universities and will facilitate a more flexible approach to how universities support the aspirations of our talented students.

Students who decide to embark on their higher education journeys now are not only one step closer to achieving their goals, but also to making an impact on a society that needs them now more than ever.

These uncertain times have not, and will not, change the value of a university degree.

Of all the knowledge, skills and graduates attributes gained at university, students joining this year will go on to possess incredible strength, resilience, determination and adaptability – values we need in the leaders of the future and right now, we need a skilled workforce to kick start our economic recovery and university graduates are best placed to do just that.

My message to students who are exploring their options for the coming academic year is: do not delay. When we face adversity head-on in life, amazing things can happen. By continuing your journey as planned, you are a day, a step, and a decision closer to accomplishing those dreams and passions, which your chosen university will provide you with unwavering support to achieve.

Professor Craig Mahoney is Principal & Vice-Chancellor of University of the West of Scotland (UWS)