Universiteter lærte en masse af corona. Nu misser de at bruge det



Corona-nedlukningen har givet universiteterne en masse erfaringer med digital undervisning. Hvorfor bruger de dem ikke til at stille fx forelæsninger til rådighed for alle, spørger studerende Katrine Vejlang.

Op til konferencen Aarhus Symposium, som foregik i begyndelsen af november, blev der afholdt en essaykonkurrence for studerende.

I sidste uge bragte vi vinderessayet, og her kan du læse den tekst, der fik andenpræmien. Den er skrevet af Katrine Vejlang, der læser økonomi ved Aarhus Universitet. Hendes essay tager afsæt i, hvordan økonomisk vækst kan blive mere retfærdig og bæredygtig – og hun spørger bl.a., hvorfor universitetet ikke benytter de erfaringer med ny teknologi, som corona-perioden har givet, til at stille undervisningsmateriale og video-forelæsninger til rådighed for andre end bare de studerende.


Responsibilities of tomorrow

What we have right now is a window – a unique opportunity to look inward in organizations and our society and introduce change. In the beginning of 2020, our everyday as we knew it was turned upside down in a split second, and we had to adapt in a way we never thought possible. Now, post Covid19, we have this window of opportunity before settling back into habits - probably our old habits. In this window we can wiggle the norm of the society we want to see, by introducing the innovations that emerged during Covid19 or completely new ideas or opportunities. One thing these changes have in common is that we would benefit from introducing them while we still have a flexible society only on the way to settle into habits.

In 2012 the English economist Kate Raworth published her first paper on the concept of doughnut economics. A concept which rapidly gained traction internationally and was used when forming the 17 Sustainable Development Goals presented by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The doughnut represents the social and planetary boundaries of the world where the 17 goals define the most important areas of these boundaries. These 17 goals represent our responsibilities of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – these are our focus when talking about responsibility.

The question still stands – how can leaders balance success within the organisation and create economic growth while still considering the responsibility towards society? Are these two aspects really contradictory, or is this way of thinking an outcome of relentlessly holding on to old economic theory in combination with being afraid of change? The leaders of tomorrow must be brave and consider how they best seize the opportunities presented to them, even though they may not look like what they have been done in the past. Covid19 forced the organizations, employees, and other involved parties to come up with ground-breaking disruptive innovations in order to adapt to the new reality. And we made it through.

But in this situation leaders were not brave; they were forced to make these changes. And now, post Covid19, leaders of tomorrow must live up to their responsibility and instead of being forced they need to be brave enough to make these radical changes. They need to think about economic growth and business in a new way. But what we see now are not leaders seizing these opportunities or even raising the question of possible change before settling into old habits.

Aarhus University (AU), the institution where I spend most of my time, is a part of this failure by refusing to acknowledge the opportunities and rethink how we do university. We could maybe create a smarter university but instead AU has chosen to settle back to old habits.

During the previous 18 months the 45,000 students at AU managed to maintain their education at the same level as before the lockdown. This (and the general Home Office movement) has shown how little being present at specific locations actually matters, and how much you can do online.

But why is especially AU an interesting institution when talking about responsibility toward society together with economic growth? This is very simply due to its product – education. One of the reasons why society enables and invests in education is certainly because data has proven that a well-educated workforce is key to state prosperity. In data we see a strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and the median wage.

Education is key in the development of underdeveloped countries. Moreover, uneven educational opportunities also highly reflect inequality within and between countries. When turning our eyes toward the doughnut model and the 17 sustainability goals, education is fundamental in amending the social boundaries of the world.

With this in mind, AU with its core product in education, is per definition an organization that has a unique position of being able to enrich certain societies and move them in a more equal and inclusive direction. An influential position, which is expressed in the vision statement of the university (translated from the homepage of the university): “The vision requires that the university uses its academic strength and breadth as well as its international position to create value for the Danish and global society. Value in this strategy must be understood broadly and includes contributions to the social, economic and cultural development of the whole society.”

During the 18 months of lockdown we got the technological equipment, conducted a natural experiment and gained experiences on what it would be like to adapt education in an online format. Why do we not use this material and knowledge base that we already got, to produce sustainable education instead? What would happen if AU made an online platform and uploaded proper recordings of the lectures on specific subjects? These are lectures that already occur – we use what we have got, but just in a smarter way. Nationally we could improve the opportunity of “continuing education” for people in various segments e.g., by offering subjects such as accounting, private economy, or constitutional law as single subjects. Internationally AU could open up its platform and “donate” online subjects as courses to universities in other countries that are less fortunate and do not have the same funds to provide high quality education to a broad audience.

AU would strengthen its university position within Denmark by obtaining a more inclusive educational strategy that addresses an enlarged segment including all ages and educations status with no geographical limitation. All by adding only a limited amount of costs. Internationally speaking Aarhus University and Denmark would likewise get not only the reputation of addressing the responsibilities on a global scale, but also make a change to struggling people in troubled societies. Improved education would help on numerous UN goals, e.g., goal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 17.

Even though my focus has been on Aarhus University because this is an organization close to me, the general thought can be drawn onto all existing organizations and their leaders. How can leaders balance success within the organisation and creating economic growth with responsibility towards society? I would hope that the old way of thinking which says that the two aims – success/growth and responsibility – cannot go hand in hand is a thought of the past because it puts a boundary onto the way we do and think business. Commercial success, economic growth and responsibility towards society must coexist and complement one another if the leaders of today choose to be the brave leaders we need for tomorrow. They need to be willing to listen to ideas, to look at alternatives and to challenge what they already do and ask the question “can we do it smarter?”. The overall take on living up to the responsibilities of tomorrow is to remember to seize opportunities and to not be afraid when these opportunities represent change. 

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