I have a grandson in England who hoped to go to university this fall. His parents are keen to help him figure out what to do. There are hundreds of thousands of young men and women around the world in a position similar to that of my grandson. My son said, “You are an expert in online learning and higher education. What would you say to him?”
I took a deep breath, swallowed, and said. “I really don’t know. There is no good solution – just some that are not quite as bad as others.” (I tell you, I hate it if I don’t know the answer.)
The context is important
First, every student situation is different. It depends on what you want to study. If you want to study English literature, post-colonial Canadian history, or math, you can do at least one semester, and possibly two semesters, perfectly online if you go to a university that already has online learning experience, about two-thirds of Canadian universities – according to Sir Tim O’Shea, former Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University, but only 20% in the UK. Until the summer semester of 2021, you can catch up on the social and personal development aspects of the university without much loss.
When online is not a good solution
So what does my grandson want to learn? Frankly, he wants to be Steven Spielberg, but better. He wants to be a film or video producer. He’d applied for an excellent BA film program in the UK for anyone who wants to work in the film industry, but he’s totally devastated to learn that at least the first semester and probably more because of Covid-19 (that is) completely online will be devastating England at the moment).
He has three objections:
- The reason he chose the program was because it was advertised as largely practical.
- He is a very social young man and was looking forward to making new friends and potential connections in the film industry.
- Tuition fees in England are very high, and while he’s willing to take on debt and get family support, he wants value for money that he won’t get from studying at home alone.
What are the alternatives?
The usual alternatives are difficult for him too:
- Ideally, he could take a year and travel around the world, but that’s not a good idea, at least for the next nine months, until Covid-19 is under control worldwide
- He could try to gain work experience in the local film industry, except that there are few or no filming locations and many full-time, experienced film people are unemployed
- He could choose another course or program that would be fine online for a year or so, but that would mean at least postponing his dream and it is very much NOT what he wants to do
- He also checks work visas for Canada, Australia or New Zealand in hopes of attending a film school in one of these countries, but again, since Covid-19 is widespread in England, the US borders might be closed to at least the next few nine months.
If you put Brexit in the mix, and the disgust of the whole family against Boris Johnson and the way the country is developing, and because you’re at home all day because of the coronavirus, you can imagine in what state my grandson is in. I hurry to add that. I am aware that he is not alone, that many other potential students are in worse positions, etc. etc., but he is my grandson and thinks I should be able to help him if he wants to.
I sent him the link to a Video from WCET, with excellent advice and empathy from Jessica Rowland Williams, director of EveryLearnerEverywhere. The most important:
- Once you’ve explored all the options, do what you think is best for you: it’s your life
- So don’t give up your dream. It may not be a direct path to your dream, but your dream gives you an anchor and a point to target
- Be flexible to make your dream come true. So do everything you can to be successful.
In the case of my grandson, I think the most useful but difficult advice is: be patient (this is difficult because he is only 18). That will go away. Wait until 2021 to start your BA film program. In the meantime, enjoy life as best you can and don’t give up your dream. (Yes, that means you have permission to play video games all day – until next year).
Implications for universities
But what will happen to the universities if all students have followed my advice? Wouldn’t they go bankrupt if they all waited a year?
First, this advice is not suitable for all students. Some programs work perfectly online. Second, it might be an idea to rest some programs for a year anyway if they need a lot of closeness in class, such as: B. certain laboratory-based subjects. Third, some universities will actually go bankrupt (especially in England), whatever I advise. But those who do this with excellent online programs to complement their on-campus programs will be stronger. And don’t put the cart in front of the horse. Universities are there to serve students, not the other way around (yes, I know that’s a sacrilege.)
Let’s hear it for the 2020 class
I’m sure of one thing. Those students of the (potential) class of 2020 who are coping with this terrible situation and coming to the other side in a good mental state will be the leaders of the future. I wish each of them every success – and I hope to live to see how my grandson gets his Oscar.
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