Detailed Program of the Conference

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Parallel session - E.3.2 Covid-19 And The Institutional Fabric Of Higher Education: Accelerating Old Patterns, Imposing New Dynamics, And Changing Rules?
Wednesday, 02/June/2021:
3:15pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Romulo Pinheiro
Session Chair: Elizabeth Balbachevsky
Session Chair: Pundy Pillay
Session Chair: Akiyoshi Yonezawa
Location: Room 6

Session Panels:
E.3. Covid-19 and the Institutional Fabric of Higher Education: Accelerating Old Patterns, Imposing New Dynamics, and Changing Rules?

External Resource:


Marie Clarke

University College Dublin, Ireland

In January 2021 Ireland was rated worst in the world in terms of new Covid cases per capita and since the first outbreak in February 2020 the pandemic continues to have a profound impact on Ireland’s economy and the stability of the public finances. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in Ireland was created as part of the reorganisation of governmental departments and was formally established in August 2020, six months after the outbreak of the pandemic. The establishment of a new department proved challenging as many of the existing administrative functions had to be transferred from the previous government Department of Education and Skills which had responsibility for these areas. This is turn put pressure on the existing system of higher education in the context of dealing with the challenges posed by the pandemic.

This paper will explore the government and stakeholders responses to the challenges posed by the pandemic with reference to key drivers such as the transition to remote learning and maintaining the quality of programmes, the emergent needs of students, funding, restrictions on international travel and the continuing programme of system reform in the sector. It will consider the emergent issues arising from this context with reference to the impact of COVID-19 on the Irish higher education system at a macro level taking into account the perspectives of the different policy actors. It will also reflect on the responses and proposed recovery approaches from the ongoing crisis.

A qualitative approach will be adopted to analyse the data drawing from documentary sources. These sources will include publicly available documents from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Irish Universities Association, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (trade union), Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the National Forum for Teaching and Learning, Union of Students Ireland, parliamentary debates, each university’s websites and announcements with reference to COVID-19, speeches and other communications by the minister, institutional leaders and new items/press releases. This documentary analysis will assess the degrees of convergence and divergence between the various policy actors at the macro level in responding to the impact of the pandemic.

A social realist approach using Archer’s morphogenetic framework will be employed to facilitate an exploration of the variegated responses that COVID-19 has produced at the macro level. Archer (2010) suggests that a realist asks what needs to be in place in order for things to operate in a particular way. Through analytical dualism, Archer (1995) separates structure (the external world) into the spheres of structure and culture. According to Archer (1995), structure represents material goods (which are distributed unequally across society) and social positions, while culture represents ideas and beliefs. Agency encompasses human action and interaction. Archer views the social world through these separate components and their combined interactions to analyse structure, culture and agency (Case, 2015). Archer’s theoretical framework facilitates an in-depth analysis of the situational logics that the structural and cultural conditioning of the pandemic has created within universities.


Romulo Pinheiro, Michael Assante, Sudeepika Liyanapathiranage

University of Agder, Norway

The COVID-19 crisis has had an extensive impact on higher education institutions (HEIs) across the globe, resulting in the disruption of academic progress and institutional operations. According to recent European surveys the pandemic affected lectures, communication channels between universities and its community, infrastructure changes, international student mobility, public policy development and engagement as well as teaching and learning (Crawford et al. 2020, UNESCO. 2020). Preliminary evidence suggests that COVID19 has yielded a public value response from private and community sectors (Hudecheck et al. 2020) alike, including the HE sector. The ongoing crisis seemingly highlights vagaries in sustaining academic excellence and continuity, and brings to the fore discussions about digitalization and the future of teaching, learning, research and organizational management (UNESCO, 2020). HEIs development agenda is fraught in various aspects, including the shift from the traditional face-to-face teaching to online teaching and learning, the switch from the traditional face-to-face classroom examination to online and oral forms, the cancellation of physical events and activities, alongside the formation of a “new normality” (Tesar 2020, UNESCO. 2020). Moreover, the crisis has exposed critical loopholes in the administrative management structures of HEIs, and the negative side effects of fiscal policy, particularly insofar austerity. The shortage of vital institutional resources in the public sector (equipment, staff, finances, time) and a general lack of bureaucratic slack (Trincherro et al., 2020).

Studies indicate that HEIs’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been multifaceted, ranging from no response to social isolation strategies to rapid online curriculum redevelopment (Crawford et al., 2020; UNESCO, 2020). While some HEIs have adopted emergency remote teaching as an essential first step on the road to academic continuity, others have shut down and extended their semester break (Crawford et al., 2020). This has been associated with poorly resourced institutions and inadequate preparation for proactive and strategic responses (Crawford et al., 2020). Some HEIs were underprepared for an overnight shift to high-quality online teaching and learning, and this has pushed some scholars to question the resilience of HEIs in terms of digital infrastructure and digital inclusion for crises management (Crawford et al., 2020). To this end, a deeper understanding of HEIs’ resilience framework, through digital infrastructure and digital inclusion, is explored with a focus on administrative and strategic responses to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Against this backdrop, this paper addressed two research questions, focusing on Norway and Sweden as cases:

  • How did HEIs in Norway and Sweden respond to the challenges brought by COVID 19?
  • To what extent does digital transformation foster the resilient capacity of HEIs?

Drawing upon recent contributions on crisis management and resilience (Duit 2016, Linnenluecke 2017, Duchek 2020, Pinheiro et al., forthcoming), our investigation unpacks developments prior to and during the crisis, and sheds light on key endogeneous and exogneous factors likely to determine resilence outcomes. The data derives from recent qualitative and quantitative inquiries (primary and secondary datasets) in Norway and Sweden, providing important insights for both research in the field and policy/practice.


Birgit Schreiber1, Thierry Luescher2, Brett Perozzi3, Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo4

1Freiburg University, Germany; 2HSRC Cape Town, SAfrica; 3Weber State University, USA; 4American University of Sharjah, UAE

The covid-19 pandemic has shed a different light on the diversity of challenges that present obstacles to equitable learning and student development in higher education across the globe. Higher education and Student Affairs and Services (SAS) are faced with a set of challenges that are in parts related to the characteristics of their student bodies, the resourcing of the institutions themselves, and the socio-cultural context in which the institutions are embedded.

The covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way SAS is responding to these challenges, which in turn has changed SAS fundamentally, albeit differently in different world regions. Through the impact of covid-19 on higher education institutions, on students, and on teaching practices and learning processes, the scope of SAS has been firmly expanded to include what Bronfenbrenner refers to as the exosystem and the macrosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 2009). It is with this ecological systems theory lens that four researchers from four different regions across the globe conducted an international study of the impact of covid-19 on higher education SAS practices.

The study focussed on the impact of covid-19 on SAS in seven regions of the world and was conducted online during May 2020. To analyze the responses, the researchers used SPSS and NVivo. The 781 responses of SAS practitioners from across the globe generated rich perspectives on the variety of SAS responses and approaches to the pandemic across the globe.

Overall, the data show SAS’ critical role in mediating the various challenges within and beyond the higher education institution that impact student success. There emerged four domains that impact on student success in the context of the pandemic. They include the students’ personal situation, the socio-cultural context and familial milieu into which the student is embedded and from which the student emerges, the institutional and academic domain, and the public-macro domain, which includes larger structural and political-economic issues. The chapter shows that these four domains have different significance in different world regions and in various national systems of higher education, depending on political, economic, and socio-cultural contexts into which the institutions and students are embedded.

Based on the data, a heuristic model is therefore developed that aids in understanding SAS’s engagement with students’ ability to learn and develop in higher education. The data suggests that while SAS and universities do a great deal to support students in their learning, factors in the macro-public domain and factors in the socio-cultural community and familial milieu, need to be conducive to learning to enable more student success across the globe.

Finally, the study shows that covid-19 has not only changed the scope of SAS, but also its role in lobbying and advocating for living and learning contexts that are more conducive to student success. The presentation concludes with a recommendation to further develop this heuristic model to contribute to the development of a global SAS profession that plays a significant role in advancing higher education practices that promote equitable success for all students.


Yingxin Liu, Hugo Horta

The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong S.A.R. (China)

The pandemic turmoil brought on by the pervasive COVID-19 outbreak started in January 2020. The unforeseeable public health emergency has impacted the academic routine of the higher education sector, institutions, and academics. Academics in Mainland China and Hong Kong were the first to be confronted with unparalleled challenges and unknowns brought by the pandemic. Yet, studies relevant to these academics under COVID-19 are mostly based on observations and reflective writings.

This study is designed to mitigate this knowledge gap, by inquiring academics in different fields of knowledge and located in different places and universities, the ways in which they thought and opted to deal with the challenge of uncertainty. This thinking and choices are part of a strategic academic adaptation to scholarly work under the dramatic upsurges of the epidemic. This strategic adaption will likely result into typologies of strategic action (eventually inaction as well) that relate to individual innovativeness, resilience, power and legitimacy, and on how these individual characteristics interacted with environmental factors, and ultimately shaped the academic work developed by these academics. Therefore, two levels of exploration combine the thinking and agency of individual academics on the micro level in adapting to a new scholarly environment on the meso level (i.e, the university), and in navigating through imposed social norms to prevent the propagation of the pandemic that constrained individual agency at both the micro and meso levels.

The study is developed revolving around two major research questions: 1. What are the major influences affecting the routine research of academics in Mainland and Hong Kong during the COVID-19 outbreak? 2. How do academics in the regions strategically cope with the unsettled epidemic situations and proceed with their academic work? The analysis is based on 35 semi-structured interviews conducted subsequent to the possible “normalization” of academic work in the two regions. Moreover, relevant documentation on the institutional arrangements and policies placed in practice at national and institutional levels are reviewed. Considering the largely exploratory nature of qualitative methodologies, and the research aim of this study, a Grounded Theory approach is implemented as an appropriate methodological instrument to guide the collection of information. When doing the analysis of the data, the findings will be assessed for their conceptual and practical relevance, and whenever possible combined with possible predictive theories of agentic behavior.

In sum, this research aims to probe into the strategic adaptations of academics in Mainland and Hong Kong, together with a thorough comprehension of the academic setting under COVID-19. The study is to discern strategies facing both uncertainty, adaptation to fast imposed environmental constraints, and imagination when promoting resilience in academic work. It is expected that some of the agentic adaptation will be informed not only by the imposed social norms but also by cultural and social traits of individuals of and working in the region. It is expected that practical implications will also be extracted to inspire individual academics, higher education institutions, or even policymakers, to pool experience in response to unexpected emergencies and events.


Maria Ligia Barbosa, Eduardo Borges, Adriane Gouvêa, Felícia Picanço

UFRJ Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This study proposes a comparative analysis of reactions to the pandemic among different sectors and types of institutions in Brazilian higher education system (HES). As in many countries, enrollment expansion in HE was associated with differentiation and diversification in Brazil. About three quarters of students are enrolled in private institutions which offer mostly market-oriented courses. The public sector of HE is composed of elite institutions that are responsible for a major part of research and strongly marked by academic bias. Faced with the pandemic different institutions showed very distinct reactions. In common, their first movement was to emphasize the teaching function of universities. All institutions focused on keeping classes working. Even so, they differed in forms and timing and in the decision processes. It took two days for some private institutions to go entirely online. Many public institutions just began to offer ‘remote classes’ four months after the pandemic was installed. There is no uniformity: one fifth of private institutions had to interrupt classes; schools of Medicine did not close, nor did some Engineering schools. Humanities and social sciences courses were closed in public institutions but not in private ones. Award ceremonies were cancelled, but many graduates managed to get their certificates. Teachers in the private sector were fired or had important wage reductions while their colleagues in public sector kept their contracts. Students in public institutions were allowed bonus for internet connection and computers. Many institutions lack basic computational structure and both students and teachers are not so familiarized with online working. Some universities were restrained from acting on ideological grounds against distance education. As the Ministry of Education chose to ignore the pandemic, there is no legal or policy guidance on how to cope with it. Even less money.

The disparities arose questions on efficiency and equity in higher education in the public debate. We propose to analyze how different types of institutions faced the pandemic: which policies or institutional actions were proposed? By which institutions/institutional type? What rationales justify these proposals? Are there similarities among actions? Is it already possible to identify impacts of these actions?

Neo-Institutionalism, identity theories, and strategic choice are the theoretical approaches employed to investigate institutional positioning in the context of the pandemic. We will focus on the nature and goals of HEI as organizations and the association between environmental pressures and HEI responses to them.

We propose to characterize the significant dimensions of institutional diversification in the Brazilian system of higher education and how they impact the reaction to the pandemic: type of institutional control/sector (public or private), size, programs or curricular structure, degree levels or types, profiles of students’ body, and indicators of performance. Those are the classical dimensions used in the institutional analysis of HE and data from the ministry of education allow for the typification of institutions.

The institutional documents, interviews and reports collected by students and researchers at LAPES, as well the extensive news coverage will provide the empirical elements for the analysis of policies and institutional actions.


Akiyoshi Yonezawa1, Hiroshi Ota2, Keiko Ikeda3, Yukako Yonezawa1

1Tohoku University, Japan; 2Hitotsubashi University, Japan; 3Kansai University, Japan

In light of the limitations imposed on students’ physical mobility under the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the status of higher education that is based on the interactions of students originating from different countries is facing tremendous fundamental challenges. The digitalization of university education has been accelerated. Moreover, various interactions and co-learning that go beyond national borders and geographical distance are rapidly expanding in cyber space.
The contexts of international university education are highly diverse with respect to different higher education systems and institutions. In Anglophone countries, the degree of damage from the pandemic and the financial capacity of international students are becoming crucial factors in international student marketing. In addition, various types of transnational education services, including MOOCs, are becoming active and inseparable components of mainstream university education.
In East Asia, while the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic itself is on a relatively smaller scale, the mobility of international students was strictly controlled. Moreover, the ongoing rapid digitalization of society is posing a fundamental question as to whether they could continue to attract international students through their current university education, which is deeply embedded in national and local society, culture, and languages. In Japan, for example, online-based international education are mostly pursued as non-commercial, intercultural co-learning. Meanwhile, the outsourcing of language education (for example) to overseas providers through online-based learning is becoming widespread.
This article discusses the following question from the perspectives of Japan’s and East Asia’s higher education systems, which have a strong national identity in academic tradition and languages.
What transformations are the COVID-19 pandemic and its countermeasures bringing about with regard to the internationalization of university education?
This research combines a case analysis of institutional responses with the conceptual/theoretical discussions on the internationalization of the curriculum in international education.
First, in order to identify the trends and major patterns of the responses and transformations of international education (e.g., student exchange and international co-learning), the authors examine the responses of different types of universities that are active in international education in Japan. In addition to the analysis of publicly available documents on the national policy and surveys, the author conducted semi-structured interviews involving leaders and experts in international education who are affiliated with different types of universities.
Then, the author especially focuses on two cases exemplifying the practices of developing online international collaborative learning with partner universities overseas. One case involves a leading member of the worldwide consortium of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) whose practices that were developed before the pandemic drew attention as a model of online-based international learning under/post-pandemic. The other case constitutes a leading model of campus-based intercultural co-learning between international students and home students.
Based on the results of the analysis of the institutional responses and the practices in international education under the suspension of student mobility, the authors present a discussion on the core values of international education, namely, understanding and respect of others, as a future perspective of international university education.