Keir Exposure – Constructive Opposition a Year on?

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

22/04/2020.. London, United Kingdom. First virtual PMQs and Ministerial statement on Coronavirus, with First Secretary of State Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP and the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer MP. Picture by  Jessica Taylor © UK Parliament


“It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”, writes US Political Consultant Frank Luntz in Words that Work.

For Labour leader Keir Starmer,  people are not hearing much.

All political leaders have to deal with the circumstances of their time.  Some are gifted with a series of own goals by the other side – remember the sleaze stories about John Major’s Government?  Others find themselves overshadowed by major events – remember, or maybe you don’t, Michael Foot during the Falklands War?

Since taking over as Labour leader during the earlier days of the pandemic, Starmer has struggled to get that magic factor – “cut through”.  He may do all the things opposition leaders do, such as Prime Minister’s Questions, major speeches, policy announcements, party events. But even when these get attention, they fade quickly from our minds.

Part of Keir Starmer’s problem is the need to tread a difficult line.  At a time of crisis people generally want the government to do well.  Too much attack dog can rebound on the attacker; and he did begin by saying he would take a constructive approach.

But opposition leaders need to find points of difference.  For a party to be a government in waiting there has to be something making the wait worthwhile.

Early 2021 saw an outbreak of media stories driven by what was obviously briefing by disaffected senior individuals. We read of worries about Starmer’s team, about his approach, about his lack of achievement. This came ahead of, and may in fact have played a part in, a speech trailed as carrying elements of a new Beveridge report.  The contents of the speech however, did not live up to its billing.

And here is one of the problems. When there is lot of noise, you either need to make more noise to cut through or wait for a sudden pause for breath. You need to be nimble and to apply plenty of hype and you need to surprise. And if what happens is less than expected, cutting through in future is even harder.

Starmer is aware that he needs to choose his moments. His refusal to call for the resignation of Matt Hancock over NHS procurement transparency is a good example. He knows such a call would go unanswered and could look opportunistic, even though calling for Cabinet resignations used to be a reflex action by opposition leaders.

In late February, writing in the Times newspaper, Hugo Rifkind asked “What is the point of Sir Keir Starmer?”  Rifkind felt there was not enough actual opposing going on.  He may have a point, but if the efforts of figures such as Neil Kinnock have taught us anything, it is that opposition is a long game, and you may end up substituted before the win.

Paula Keaveney is programme leader for Politics at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 27th May 2020. Paula’s original blog piece can be found here.

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The Unmet Rights of Children in Care: the State of Affairs 12 months on

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

In April 2020 regulations in the United Kingdom (UK) relating to the protection and care of children who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers, were relaxed. This raised alarm bells about the increased risk of these children’s rights not being met. Twelve months on, what is current state of affairs for some of our most vulnerable children?  

The relaxing of duties associated with protecting children in care was implemented through the statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’. Following the introduction of these regulations Article 39,  a charity championing children’s rights, challenged the government on the removal and/or watering down of 65 specific safeguards for children in care in England.

This led, on 24th November 2020, to The Secretary of State for Education being found to have acted unlawfully in removing the safeguarding for children in care through these regulations, and that the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care should have been consulted thereon (Article 39). With reference to England’s 78,000 children in care, in the Concluding Comments at the Court of Appeal it was stated ‘the amendments as a whole were unquestionably substantial and wide-ranging and, when implemented, had the potential to have a significant impact on children in care’

While this is good news for children in care, there remains huge concerns about the lack of measures to ensure children in care are adequately protected.

In November 2020, the Children’s Commissioner reported that of the children in care in England, 6,570 are currently growing up in children’s homes, however, there are insufficient places in these homes to meet demand, stating that, ‘often these children end up in flats where they are overseen by teams of unknown agency staff while awaiting a more permanent place’ (p.3).

Such accommodation is classified as ‘unregulated’ meaning it is not monitored or inspected by any government regulator. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the situation for the ‘13,000 children ending up in unregulated homes at some point during the year’ (Children’s Commissioner, 2020, p. 11).

In response, on 19th February 2021 Parliament ruled that a ban on the placing children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will come into force in September 2021 (Department for Education). While positive, this ban will only help around 100 children in care at any one time as the majority on children placed in unregulated accommodation are aged 16 and 17 (Article 39, 2021). It will also be too late for those children who have been ‘locked down’ in private and unregulated accommodation.

Thus, the situation will remain whereby young people aged 16 and 17 in the care system can be placed in privately-run accommodation without receiving care, meaning that their right to care will remain unmet. As we move out the pandemic, there is an urgent need to review how we look after children and young people both to ensure that their right to care is met – but also that it cannot be removed or altered without due process.

Professor Carol Robinson is Professor of Children’s Rights within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 which can be found here and coincided with the Human Rights Council’s Annual Day on the Right of the Child, on Monday 1st March 2021.

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Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

The 24th March 2021 will be the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.

Since then we have been on a roller-coaster, both personally and professionally, and witnessed unprecedented changes to our way of life. Some will be temporary – others will be permanent; but as we approach the anniversary, can we predict which will be which?

In April and May 2020 Edge Hill academics were inspired to write blog pieces exploring the immediate impact of lockdown as it related to their research interests. These pieces looked at a wide spectrum of geographical and demographic groups and explored many areas, from the arts, to autism, politics to prisons, and more. We converted this blog into an online publication and it now stands as both an historic and contemporary account of our immediate response to the pandemic.

Since then a lot has changed. We have gone from the switch to online teaching and the agony of cancelling long held plans (and the associated battle to get our money back), to staycations and Eat Out to Help Out. We have become gardeners, bakers and crafters. We have bounced around tiers, ate Christmas dinner alone, and become ‘experts’ on vaccines, R-numbers and learnt new acronyms; and we all wished we had bought shares in Zoom. Then as 2021 began with lockdown #3, we started to wonder if we will ever get our old lives back.

Yet the impact on some of our research communities has been more profound. Edge Hill has a proud tradition of engaging in excellent, applied research that has direct impact on communities; locally, nationally and internationally. So today we are launching the ISR Covid-19 Anniversary Blog to run throughout March and April 2021. This will explore the effects of the pandemic on our research communities over the past year, and make predictions as to its lasting impacts.

To that end have invited all of the original bloggers to submit an updated piece; asking what they got right, what they got wrong, and their longer-term predictions.

In addition, we are inviting all University staff to submit a piece. What have been the impacts of the pandemic on your field of enquiry? Will these be permanent or temporary? What will happen next?

To accompany the Blog, on the evening of March 24th we have invited five of the original bloggers to present ‘Edge Talks’ on one of five overarching themes, specifically; ‘civil liberties on-loan’, ‘politics of pandemics’, ‘exaggerated inequalities’, ‘the passing of time’ and ‘wither the arts’. This will offer both a wider perspective on the pandemic but also the opportunity to converse with others about your pandemic experience, and those of your research communities.

We do hope that you will both contribute a piece, and join us on the evening of the 24th.

Prof Jo Crotty

Director: ISR

What to do next:

Submit a blog piece: all blog pieces must be approximately 500 words, pithy yet apolitical and submitted via ISR@edgehill.ac.uk. All posts are moderated.

Join us on the evening of the anniversary talks: please click here to register

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Social Distant Socially Responsible: One Church’s Experience

In light of the current, and preceding lockdowns, ‘church’ at St Gabriel’s, Huyton, has been very different.

Transferring worship services online has allowed our congregation to interact, but the ceasing of public worship has decimated church finances and fees. We cannot let out of our facilities which impacts our ability to reach out to the wider community, and reduces our resources. It also posed a threat to our fellowship’s cohesion and the work we do in the community, including meal services and other community support programmes.

Nonetheless, as a team we responded quickly, ably led by the Vicar, Canon Mal Rogers. We immediately set up telephone contact systems so that our members could be contacted by other members on a regular basis; which was particularly important for those who could not use social media or had the IT to communicate, or join events. We also held fun nights and quizzes and other online meetings and suggested screenings to encourage and entertain those who might feel isolated and in need of nurturing and encouragement.

During the brief lull in infections, we did manage to open the church for a maximum of 30 people for Sunday services. This came with a booking system, PPE, track and trace and social distancing. Singing or social contact was not allowed; but we did manage Communion Services with bread (wafers) only.

With funerals we adopted a new approach, allowing families to choose music to be played at the graveside, and in church. It is fair to say this had some ‘interesting’ outcomes, but by and large, sensitive and moving moments were created from mobile speakers, portable sound systems and even the funeral car CD player on one occasion!

We were also deeply concerned to continue our social outreach with the Apples Trust Nursery supporting local families in need and the One Knowsley initiative. Through Knowsley Kitchen we have continued delivering regular food to families throughout the pandemic, including Christmas Dinners and lunches for children.

As a Church we are also committed to help rebuild after Covid-19 and have applied for grants for the Huyton Deanery area from the Big Lottery and other charitable trusts. We are looking forward to being a strong player in the restoration of services and facilities; new initiatives to help our people rebuild the community. We trust we can start again, and do it better than before!

Rev John Davis is an ISR Visiting Fellow, and Assistant Priest at St Gabriel’s Huyton.

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How do you do Socially Distant Social Responsibility?

Overcoming digital divides, building social connections and acting in a socially responsible way in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t easy. Last week (13/01/21) ISR hosted a webinar to discuss this challenge.

The date of the webinar coincided with the launch of the JRF UK poverty report and the JRF Destitution Report which both detailed the impact of digital exclusion during the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities, with those already experiencing digital poverty excluded from what was an almost exclusively digital policy response to the outbreak. It was in the context of increasing poverty, digital exclusion and communities struggling with the impact of the new 2021 Lockdown, that we hosted the webinar.

We welcomed guest speakers; Mary Cloake from the Bluecoat Gallery, Stuart Dunne and Milo Dwyer from Youth Focus and Rev John Davis, ISR Visiting Fellow and assistant priest at St Gabriel’s, Huyton.  The speakers shared how they sought to overcome the digital divide and maintain meaningful connections with their communities.

In giving an overview of their work, Stuart and Milo connected the right to online participation with human rights. Ensuring that people have the devices and data to participate fully was key to doing socially distant social responsibility. They also spoke about the challenges of making new online connections, finding it easier to ensure that ensuring that existing contacts were supported. This observation was endorsed by many of the webinar participants, and remains a huge challenge.

John focussed on how to nourish communities in a digital and socially distant space. Maintaining links via practical food and volunteer support, using ‘old fashioned approaches’ like the telephone, letters, and socially distant visits had been fundamental to this. John’s experience shows that there are other ways to respond that just using digital media. We are perhaps at risk of forgetting this!

Finally, Mary shared some of the opportunities for empowerment that had emerged from Lockdown. The Bluecoat lead on ‘where the arts belong, a project that works in care homes with people living with dementia. As project workers could no longer visit the care homes to offer activities, they instead trained the care home staff on how to engage with the residents artistically. The project is now delivered by care home staff, ensuring its longevity and positive impact on residents.

All of the speakers, and webinar participants through the ‘chat’, expressed both challenges and unexpected benefits arising from the need to rethink how we do ‘social responsibility’. Some online approaches can have a wider reach, technology permitting; but there were limitations, particularly in building those deeper connections and initiating contacts.

Rethinking accessibility to include digital equality, nourishing communities with multi layered communication approaches, and empowering individuals to develop new skills, can build a robust, caring and person-centred methodology for socially distant social responsibility, are all part of the solution, but we are keen to discover more!  

So, from this initial webinar further conversations will be organised by the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University with a view to gathering a set of creative resources that share challenges, solutions and best practice on how to do socially distant social responsibility.

We do hope that you will take part – so look out for forthcoming events.

Dr Katy Goldstraw is the Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group and Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care at Staffordshire University.

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‘Catholicism at a Crossroads’: Technology in Times of Crisis in Modern Ireland

Since the mid-90s secularisation in Ireland has been discernible, with sharp declines in mass attendance, vocations, regular family prayer and Catholic sacramental engagement. This period dovetails with allegations of sexual abuse amongst the clergy, and the mistreatment of unmarried mothers (Fallen Women) in religious-run institutions (Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes). It also coincided with increased urbanization arising from the ‘Celtic Tiger’ (1995-2008).

Technological Adoption, Disconnection and Belonging

Today, regular mass attendance is low among children, youth and middle-aged persons. However, pre-Covid funeral attendance was generally high, partially due to close-knit rural relationships. Churches responded to the Covid crisis by increased technological adoption including ‘mass on demand’ and live ceremonies. This opens churches up to new, international audiences, who increasingly desire flexible engagement through hand-held technologies. However, a revenue crisis prevails due to falling church donations and mental health issues are growing among the general population. Clergy who regularly say mass without congregations also report feelings of disconnection from their communities.

The expansion of online provision offers scope for people who desire some emotional connections. However, when Covid ends in the longer term this could exacerbate decreases in regular mass-going, thereby deepening secularisation and sporadic engagement. Restrictions on mass attendance and prayer meetings in private houses impact markedly on rural, elderly dwellers that frequently rely on these events for friendships and social contact.

A More (Technologically) Engaged Church: Flexibility, New Routines and Communication

After the pandemic, the church is likely to be more technologically responsive than any time in its history. However, how it communicates with parishioners and the social legitimacy accorded to its message is also likely to be influenced by other events, including the church’s response to survivors of Mother and Baby Homes and similar institutions. As we write this commentary, international news is dominated by coverage of the Irish state’s apology to survivors of these institutions and the percentage the church will pay to victims in future redress schemes. The schism between several sectors of the Irish population and the church is indeed, deep and the church’s response and how it communicates (virtually and face-to-face) is now more important than ever for its survival.

It is also likely that some congregations who attended face-to-face services pre-Covid will continue to use internet technologies to access ceremonies, moving away from face-to-face engagement, partially due to new routines and flexibility. However, the findings of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation are likely to influence church attendance (both online and face-to-face) for some time to come.

Of course, Covid-19 might also bolster attendance, at least to some degree. As the crisis lingers, people’s desires for belonging and connection grow stronger and the spaces that individuals engage with after Covid are likely to be more diverse than in pre-Covid times. However, other long-term implications for the church with regards to revenue-generation, mental health and the sustainability of church-based family support services that are largely reliant on public donations, are yet to be realised.

The impact of Covid-19 on secularisation, emotional wellbeing of parishioners and clergy, communication and the social legitimacy of the Church post-Covid, it likely to be transformative. How and in what ways, remains to be seen.

Dr Joan Cronin is Course Co-ordinator and part-time Lecturer at the Centre of Continuing Adult Education, University College, Cork, Ireland.

Dr Lisa Moran is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

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The Pandemic X Brexit: A World with Hard Borders?

As we see the imposition of hard borders within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the first time since the Acts of Union in 1707, the cosmopolitan dream of a world without borders appears to be slipping away.

The European Union, once an organization eager to push for the dismantling of borders and promote the free movement of people, goods and services, is also beginning to appear lukewarm on this concept. Brexit and the Northern Ireland border could have been the cause of this unravelling, but they are not. The pandemic seems to have been more successful, with its ability to make visible national borders, impose quarantines and reassert the nation-state as the main management and administration unit.

But herein lies the problem. The economic consequences of imposed immobility can only be mitigated by consumption, which seems to be the only way to keep once thriving economies away from the brink of disaster. Governments, notably the UK, has kept encouraging us to shop, buy from local businesses, eat take-aways. Which also means that rather than allowing customers to face empty shelves and ring cash registers empty, many EU countries (and the UK) have been temporarily relaxing their pandemic transborder mobility rules for labourers willing to travel to pick up fresh produce in the fields, or stack boxes in distribution centres.

In Germany, the likely demise of the asparagus in the absence of Romanian pickers became a national issue. Last April, Cluj Airport in North West Romania displayed chaotic scenes as 2,000 asparagus and strawberry pickers boarded chartered planes bound for Germany in one day only. In May, Martin Hofstätter, a private entrepreneur from Northern Italy, also rented private jets to bring Romanian workers for his vineyards. The UK followed.

Throughout the autumn and in the run-up to Christmas, packing and distribution warehouses along the M6 corridor continued their aggressive recruitment campaigns, with Romanian warehouse operatives arriving in droves, without being tested or even offered quarantine advice. As discussions in Facebook groups attest, this type of work is still recruiting, despite other industries collapsing.

As we now enter into another UK lockdown and with further restrictions imposed throughout Europe, the case of preferential mobility during the pandemic raises certain issues.

On an optimistic note, it makes the plight of casual labourers visible. These once tolerated subjects of negative media campaigns and poor European cousins, have now become valued key workers. It has taken a massive crisis and a huge personal risk, but it has happened.

An alternative interpretation could be that the EU (and the UK) are continuing their duplicitous policies regarding desirable versus undesirable migrants, those who are welcome to avail themselves of mobility rights, and those who are kept away; exploited or deported when necessary.

Of course, this can also be considered a form of neocolonialism, with the possible complicity of the colonized. Why did the Romanian government allow workers to travel to countries with higher infection rates to solve someone else’s labour shortages?

Whichever interpretation you prefer, the cosmopolitan dream of equal recognition, fruitful cultural exchange and free movement for all is still slipping away.

Dr Remus Gabriel Anghel is Senior Researcher at the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu is ISR Research Fellow and Reader in Communication, Edge Hill University, UK.

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COVID Creativity: new possibilities or a fresh challenge?

When Arts Council England launched its 10-year strategy in January, no-one could have guessed what was just around the corner.

‘Let’s Create’ is a strategy full of hope; about opening up opportunities, developing shared experiences and recognising the creative potential in each of us.

COVID-19 has challenged us all, on a professional and personal level. Cultural institutions have been in a state of flux: open, shut, welcoming, hibernating.  At times it’s been a battle just to exist and sustain, never mind create and engage.

Now, there is a vaccine on the horizon, and with that comes the hope of everyday life resuming. So what effect will the pandemic have had on the vision set out in Let’s Create?

At its core Let’s Create is a holistic strategy. It is based on the principle that the best way to build a creative and cultural country is to do it with, rather than for, its people.

As the pandemic unfolded and the UK went into lockdown, personal artistic endeavour did flourish for many. Whether it was brought on by the gift of free time, a search for meaning, or a need to come together. We saw zoom choirs, painted rainbows, and stories and songs from young and old. Culture and creativity gave hope, an escape, and a lens through which to try and understand a rapidly changing world.

Research and experience have long shown that creative activity can reduce loneliness, help physical and mental wellbeing, and build community.

So will the pandemic have stirred a lasting interest in the arts? Or will society shuffle back into the usual ebb and flow and consign ‘COVID creativity’ to a historical footnote?

Time will tell, but there are undoubted opportunities for arts organisations to engage with new audiences and new artists, maintaining the momentum of this popular rediscovery of personal creative practice.  Let’s Create could play a significant role here.

Of course creativity and the arts don’t exist in a vacuum, and as we emerge from the pandemic it will be against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, struggling towns and cities, and increased unemployment. As is too often the case, in a crisis it is the disadvantaged and vulnerable who suffer the most, and this will amplify the challenges we face in reaching all those with whom we seek to engage.

As Let’s Create outlines, the cultural sector will only ever be as strong as the talent on which it is built. Even before COVID many creative practitioners and cultural workers, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, D/deaf or disabled people, and those from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, struggled to sustain financially viable careers. We must hope this pool of talent we benefited so much from pre-pandemic, will still be in a position to collaborate with us when the dust has settled. We must do all we can to support them.

As we look to the future there is much to reflect on and learn. At Bluecoat we have long been committed to opening up possibilities for visitors, audiences, artists and practitioners of all kinds. Our vision for the next ten years is to shift our focus and invite the public into the artistic process. The post-pandemic climate will undoubtedly deliver challenges, but we’ll be looking to harness the wave of personal creativity and translate that into new audiences that are active and engaged.

MARY CLOAKE is CEO of the Bluecoat Liverpool and a member of the ISR External Advisory Board.

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Narrating the pandemic: COVID-19 as a feature of Turkey’s political landscape

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 2018 presidential election victory appeared to seal his party’s domination over Turkey’s politics until the end of his term in 2023, or even 2028. Since this victory however, he has presided over an ailing economy. The Turkish lira has plummeted, foreign reserves have shrunk as the Central bank intervened to stabilise the currency, and external debt mounted until Qatar, in May 2020 gave the country’s economy a temporary reprieve.

Concurrently, a number of “rising stars” are waiting in the wings. These include the, 2019 İstanbul mayoral election winner, Ekrem İmamoğlu, and former Erdoğan ally Ali Babacan .  They are both preparing for the post-Erdoğan era by cultivating their charisma and political capital, causing concerns over Erdoğan’s re-election chances.

Erdoğan sought to deflect attention from the country’s woes through a controversial hard power projection exercise. Turkey’s involvement in Syria where it is responsible for the administration of territories it has occupied, its military presence in Libya, and Iraqi Kurdistan,  and its Blue Homeland maritime doctrine have all been presented within the country as evidence of Turkey’s regional strength.

It was against this backdrop that the COVID-19 pandemic reached Turkey. From the outset, the government sought to take narrative control of the spread of the virus in order to mitigate the potential cost and to deflect criticisms that might give an advantage to its opponents.

Erdoğan, reluctant to introduce a full lockdown, called for businesses to stay open and keep the economy’s “wheels turning“, and the government was slow in implementing measures that would hurt the fragile economy, and its own survival.

As unions accused it of disregarding the risk to workers, and Turkey’s reporting of COVID-19 cases was scrutinized by experts who suggested that cases and fatalities were underreported, the government took punitive measures to control criticism.

Medical personnel were reprimanded for speaking out on social media. 410 people were detained for “provocative and abusive” posts, including seven journalists, and TV channels were fined for their coverage, including Habertürk, whose medical expert insinuated that there were many undiagnosed cases, far exceeding confirmed case figures.

Such measures, combined with the government’s control of Turkey’s main media allowed Erdoğan to project an image of strong leadership and claim global recognition for Turkey’s contribution in combatting the pandemic. Erdoğan launched a donation campaign to support the needy, while he blocked a similar drive by his rival Ekrem İmamoğlu, to starve him of public attention.

Pro-government media praised Turkey’s pandemic management, benefits and social support measures, the construction of two pandemic hospitals “within 45 days”, and the government’s “Economic Stability Shield” programme.  Focus was also placed on the government’s preferred power projection narrative of Turkey as a global actor, highlighting Turkey’s sending of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, medicines and ventilators to hard-pressed countries, and their expressions of gratitude.

Erdoğan’s control of the pandemic narrative seems to be paying dividends, with his approval rating recovering from February’s 41.1 percent to 55.8 percent in March with his “strong leadership” projection appealing to supporters from the opposition parties.

COVID-19 has revealed that Turkish voters might be attracted to “strong leadership” more than “democratic promise” and has, perhaps, dismissed rumours of the demise of populism as no more than wishful thinking.

Spyros A. Sofos is a Research Coordinator in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University.


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Art, Music and Death Amidst the COVID 19 Pandemic:

Musings on Julio Nakpil’s “Deus Omnipotens et Misericors (Requiescat et pace), Marcha Funebre” (1943)

The Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, was in the middle of retrieving and publishing the works of the Filipino composer Julio Nakpil (1867-1960) when we were locked down by the pandemic.

Manila was put on Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) starting March 15, 2020.  Mobility was restricted.  Schools and offices closed down. Theatre productions and music concerts were cancelled, and streets emptied as people stayed in the safety of their homes.

As I worked on the Nakpil project during the lockdown, I was reminded of his composition “Deus omnipotens et misericors” (Requiescat in pace), a funeral march that he composed in 1943 against the backdrop of world war 2. This symphonic ode was dedicated “to the memory of those who have fallen during the night…” (“a la memoria de los que han caido durante la noche.”), especially to his dead comrades who fought with him in the battle for freedom.

Music as a symbolic representation of grief over the experience of death, is embedded in this composition by Nakpil. With little education and with very little training in music, he was a witness to the Japanese Occupation of Manila during WWII in 1943.  He composed this funeral march to help him come to terms with his experience, to be able to endure the pain and possibly to escape from the vicious reality of those times.

The Deus Omnipotens et Misericors, commences with a hollow deathly sound in the bass accompanied by a foreboding low lying melody. He brings in sporadic notes of the flute in the high register to bring tension against the foreboding and lugubrious reality.  Interspersed with the pathetic low registered sound are lovely harmonic melodies that reminisce of a beautiful past, or of the prospect of a bright future that is yet to be known.

Nakpil’s funeral march is a lament of an artist struggling to understand and find solution to the terror and despair brought by destruction to humanity. It is in the arts that he found solace and a glimmer of hope to continue on in his fight.

Today, as the world experiences another unprecedented situation with the “ghost enemy” of the COVID-19 virus, humanity is again under attack. With the economy shut down and people dependent only on the government for support, a funeral march like Deus Omnipotens et Misericors is an apt expression about what is happening, most especially to the arts. It is my hope that the Arts it will not be among those fallen in the night and the subject of other funeral marches in ages to come. 

Maria Alexandra Iñigo Chua, PhD is the Director of the Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines.


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Caught in the middle? Italy and China after COVID-19

If we look only at trade figures, Sino-Italian relations might not be considered worth our attention. In fact, they are very lop-sided. For Italy, China is not a significant partner, accounting for 3.4% of exports and 7.2% of imports. For China, Italy is even less important, representing less than 1% of both imports and exports. So why should we bother?

There are at least two reasons to be interested in Sino-Italian relations.

The first is that bilateral trade explains only a part of the economic interconnections, since China and Italy are linked through complex global supply chains that involve other countries. For example, automotive components produced in Italy that are exported to Germany, end up in China in the export of German cars.

The second reason has to do with the global implications of the political economy of bilateral relations, before and after COVID-19.

Italy is a highly-indebted country with a public debt/GDP ratio that was already one of the highest in the West and is expected to grow further. In addition, the Italian manufacturing structure – based on small and  medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – is often undercapitalized. This indebtedness will be put under further pressure, due to lack of demand and liquidity constraints arising from the pandemic.

The stronger presence of Chinese investors in Italy is considered a serious concern both in Europe and in the US; as Italy is seen as a possible Trojan horse for Chinese interests in the EU – especially after Italy signed in 2019 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The decoupling of the US economy from China may also influence Sino-Italian relations, as trade and investment in technology could be limited by eventual American sanctions. Italy’s room to manoeuvre will depend then on how the US-China relations will evolve.

In the medium term, Italy needs to develop its own Chinese strategy, defined within the EU framework. Only an EU-wide common strategy will open some space for Rome to shape a more tailored approach to Italy’s specific needs and interests, but at the same time coherent with the Italian Republic’s long-term foreign policy pillars; Europeanism and Atlantism.

In the longer term, Italy must avoid being caught in the middle of rising Sino-American competition over its economic spoils.

This post is an excerpt from “Italy After COVID-19”, a forthcoming book edited by Andrea Goldstein and Giorgio Bellettini (Bononia University Press).

Giuseppe Gabusi is Assistant Professor of International Political Economy and Political Economy of East Asia at the University of Turin.

Giorgio Prodi is Associate Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Ferrara.


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Covid-19 and Nigeria

Nigeria confirmed their first COVID-19 case on 27th February and since then Nigeria’s centre for disease control has been the leading institution for reporting and tackling the pandemic.

By June 2020, there were 22,020 cases and 542 deaths recorded.

Nigerians have to adapt to a new reality, after initially only hearing the news via media platforms regarding the effect of the virus. COVID-19 has been with us for four months and has already had a dramatic effect on daily lives in Nigeria.

Firstly, it has affected the economy, as the government was forced to review its economic policy and diversify away from an over-reliance on crude oil. The price of crude oil crashed, from $60 in 2019 to $20 per barrel in March 2020, as globally people are travelling much less. As a result, the economy is rapidly declining and without care, the country may enter into recession.

The spread of COVID-19 led to lockdown in several states, including the economic centre of Lagos State; there were very few economic activities during the lockdown. The temporary halt in economics has affected many small-scale businesses and some are already folding. Several companies have to lay off workers and it is projected that almost 40 million Nigerians (more than the entire population of Poland), may lose their job as a result of the pandemic.

Lockdown has also been extremely challenging for Nigerian people, particularly those living in overcrowded areas. People were expected to stay at home 24 hours per day; yet in March and April temperatures often average 45 degrees centigrade, and there were frequent power cuts.

Moreover, there were widespread reports of police brutality and the UN estimates that at least 18 people have been killed by the police enforcing lock down restrictions.

COVID-19 has also increased food insecurity and many Nigerians are at risk of hunger.

Even before the pandemic, there were food shortages reported in Nigeria. In 2018, The World Health Organization reported that Nigeria was overburdened by three main malnutrition indicators: anemia, overweight, and stunting.

The educational system is also grounded as virtual classes are limited, as many families and schools do not have access to the resources needed to facilitate this.

However, there are some positive effects. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the state of health care system in Nigeria and this forced the government to declare a state of emergency in the health sector. The health sector has gradually improved to tackle the pandemic. One such improvement has been the Ogun state government announcing the first modern molecular laboratory in the state.

This pandemic also promotes goodwill among Nigerians; it has brought people together to support community members, providing aid for the most vulnerable.

Finally, COVID-19 has brought out the creativity in Nigerians – people made face masks from local materials, mobile apps were developed and some tertiary institutions developed ventilators. There are also breakthroughs in the development of vaccines reported.

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for Nigeria but there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Olayemi Michael Godwin, is a BSc. Nutrition and Dietetics student at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Nigeria. He lives in Ogun State Nigeria.

Dr Julie Abayomi is an Associate Head of Applied Health & Social Care at EHU, and a Reader in Dietetics.


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A New Cold War? Can we maintain good academic relationships with China post Covid-19?

As a social scientist working in the field of Chinese politics, I note with interest the speed with which perceptions of China changed these last months. A Cold War mentality is detectable.

We hear from many parts of the world that China’s rise as a superpower is a challenge to the status quo. Politicians and media often label China’s Party-state as an illiberal regime. Nobody should trust it to play a positive role globally, not even in science.

Such criticisms have accelerated and turned into a movement-like wave, especially so under the Trump presidency. In the US, it has reached the level of a shrill crescendo during the Corona crisis.

Shrill as the criticisms may seem, China’s claims to innocence are no less high-pitched. China’s authoritarian Party-state has little tolerance with critics, neither abroad nor at home. This is especially true under Xi Jinping’s leadership, and more so during the Corona crisis. China’s leadership is not shy about admitting it.

While the Communist Party pursues an active and engaging science diplomacy internationally, it has strengthened its control with the organization of the country’s research environments; it demands political loyalty from the field and openly criticizes Chinese researchers with liberal inclinations or international connections.

At the same time, some governments, think tanks and media across the world accuse Chinese researchers of seeking to influence foreign research environments or to exploit them for illicit purposes, with the backing of the Chinese Party-state. Chinese entities of different hues have also come under critical scrutiny in the US and the EU. They are handled with suspicion; they may be sanctioned or even barred from entry or further operation.

At home, I was quite surprised to learn that after 10 years of collaboration, that my university one-sidedly scrapped the ongoing collaboration with Fudan University without discussion.

Navigating this fast-changing landscape is not easy for us or for Chinese social scientists. Last year I wrote about concerns for academic freedom in social science in China, and the Corona crisis has been a time for reflection about the way to counteract this.

Yet, although we are under pressure to accommodate public opinion, and the Communist Party of China demands that our Chinese colleagues align with their ideas, our common enterprise must still be that of independent critical research.

China will not go away; we must find new ways to do research on China and work with our Chinese partners in responsible and transparent ways, while dealing with the changing perceptions and the escalating Cold War mentality that pervades scientific collaboration. We must insist with our trusted partners that we maintain the bridges that we spent decades to build. Tearing then down is unfortunately much easier than building them.

Jørgen Delman is Professor of China Studies at Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), University of Copenhagen


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Computer Says ‘No’: Digital Resistance and Online delivery in Tasmania

As Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout the world, the Australian university year was just beginning. Student introductions had been made, course material had been outlined, but deep learning had not been initiated.

As swiftly as Covid-19 took hold, so did the need for Australian academics to restructure their courses from on-campus to online delivery, while attempting to maintain enriching learning experiences. For too long, many Australian universities had been selective with the courses offered for online delivery. Often, courses offered online were developed as mere replications of their on-campus counterparts. For many Australian tertiary educators, online course delivery was no longer a contentious option, but an immediate requirement.

Many talented and highly regarded academics were suddenly unprepared to reframe their courses through a solely digital environment. While some accepted the challenge and capitalised on what the technology could provide teaching delivery, many others ignored the plethora of research regarding online teaching, and reverted to foregone instructional teaching and assessment practices.

During conversations with colleagues, the overpowering focus appeared to be survival: survival in one’s job, survival of entangled personal and professional responsibilities, survival in adjusting to a whole new way of existing. One way to survive was to retreat into safe teaching spaces such as teacher-led instruction, and essay-based assessment.  The student experience dimmed at double the pace, as students too grappled with their own survival; within and external to learning commitments.

For some academics, the changes were a challenge they had unintentionally been preparing for. Many courses offered to ‘traditional online students’ had well-developed asynchronous tools, and synchronous learning experiences, packaged with an overarching emphasis on student engagement. These courses utilised functions, such as timed release of content, hurdle tasks, knowledge and achievement quizzes, and contained short lecture videos to highlight key concepts. Others new and accepting of the challenge reimagined their courses through the lens of an opportunity to diversify; demonstrating the need for reimagining delivery, rather than trying to teach the same face-to-face content through a computer screen.

Courses that were restructured without reverting to comfortable instructor-led teaching and learning, positively influenced the experience of ‘forced online students.’ Student learning was guided through interactive discussion forums and tutorials, skill development occurred through various digital mediums, and learning was presented across an array of platforms.

As Australia moves out of the initial Covid-19 depth with the easing of restrictions, and semester one’s end draws ever closer, the future of university teaching and learning remains as clouded as the past few months. Some colleagues are naturally preparing for continued online delivery, while the ‘digital resisters’ continually refresh their email inbox in hope of the elusive green light to return to the ‘old normal.’

Despite this, overall there appears a deeper respect for online learning and the self-determination and intrinsic motivation students must possess to navigate this learning experience. Achieving this understanding Australian academics have the potential to propel the future of tertiary online education during the pandemic and beyond.

Samantha Vlcek (PhD Candidate) and Scott Pedersen (Senior Lecturer), University of Tasmania, School of Education.


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“In times of trouble the wise built a bridge and the fool a dam” a Nigerian proverb.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects became real in South Africa with lock down at the end of March 2020.

No one, not the most prepared, respected or skilled lecturer, could have prepared for what was to come. 

Initially, we higher education lecturers, waited patiently for the government and Minister of Higher Education to guide us. 

Initially staff development programs at South African universities tried to prepare academics for the huge shift from classrooms to E-learning. 

I attended, like a life-long learner, these attempts to guide us to the new, virtual world.  After three workshops I realized these are a little bit like sending a letter to an agony aunt.  You have something to say, but expect to get someone else’s advice.  And can they talk in these workshops!

The next wave hit. 

Our students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds and rural areas, did not have the equipment or access to the internet to make e-learning work.

In Africa, there is a local clothing store, which provides cheap, colorful clothes at reasonable price to people.  The local clothing store became the distribution point in all rural areas for students who have no access to technology and data, and have to do paper based assessment.

As for me, I am skilled with technology, but often, it is not the knowledge that you transfer, but the questions you ask. I made a prompt decision to keep my online classes formal and well balanced. The basic instructions remain the same, despite the resources or technology used.  Be blunt, to the point. Tell the students what to do, and how to do it.  Be precise, say what you want from them and give guided instructions to get to the point.  Remain accessible, but keep to mutual respect and formal academic language.  It is as plain as you can, contact me, whenever you want, by sending an email.  Ensure to include documentation you are referring to and evidence of your attempts to master the outcomes.  Plan well ahead and submit in time.        

In Africa we built a bridge, one way or another, via a clothing store, and stay away from the water and the dam.

Dr Irene Muller, Lecturer, North West University, Vanderbijlpark Campus, South Africa


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A View from Tasmania: Has the pandemic influenced health and health behaviour?

Over the past four months humankind has endured a combination of forced challenges and changes that few in history have experienced. Underlying the need for these constraints is arguably the cornerstone to our existence – health. Amongst all the uncertainty, unpredictability, panic, and novelty that has become part of a newfound daily routine for many, perhaps individuals and broader society have had time to reflect upon health and its importance. Moreover, could it be that what we have lived through in recent months might actually present an opportunity to engage with our health and consider behaviour change? 

Within the Australian context, most parts of the country have had restrictions put in place. Interestingly, these restrictions have instigated a noticeable increase in physical activity behaviours such as bike riding, rollerblading, scooting, running, walking (including dog walking). Yes, there has been substantial modification in how many people have been dedicating their time; resulting in physical activity, recreation, and leisure activities being observable in streets, parks, courts, and on tracks. There are multiple benefits to this observable zest for movement in the outdoors, such as:

  • Family engagement through physical activity; connecting, communicating, and spending time together.
  • Breaking the cycle of being at home and staying at home; physical activity has proven to be a remedy for emotional and mental health stimulation and mindset.
  • Establishing new weekly and daily routines that feature physical activity as a regular component; in some cases, providing a foundation for planning around.
  • The development of fitness and fundamental movement skills through activities such as cycling, running, skating, scooting, and play; thus, promoting lifelong physical literacy through challenging balance, coordination, reaction time, agility, decision-making, and controlled risk taking.
  • Not relying on motorised vehicles for all travel. This has been confronting for many due to habitually relying on cars, however restrictions have forced this default behaviour to be tested.

Despite the broad and far-reaching negativity that has been portrayed by popular media since February, the benefits listed above have contributed to several positive outcomes; these are:

  • A realisation that we do have time for physical activity.
  • Reports that nationally bicycle sales have increased significantly, in some cases up to 150 – 200%.
  • Environmental health – the decrease in car use has dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Social health – physical activity has provided opportunities for people to come together, interact, and maintain relationships.

As the month of June comes to an end and restrictions ease, it is visible that Australians are reverting to their old routines and previously formed behaviours. Once again, the roads are filled with cars, rush and panic accompany school and work travel, urban noise has returned, and sadly there is less human movement in the outdoors. So, in spite of the conspicuous motivation for people to value their health during the pandemic I now find myself asking “is health important to people” and “what is required to cement health behaviour change”?   

Dr Casey Mainsbridge is Director of Student Engagement and Lecturer in Health and Physical Education at the College of Arts, Law, and Education, University of Tasmania.


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Observing Different Worlds: Action Research and the Musical Learning Community

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic began five members of the Action Research Network of the Americas established a foundation. The Musical Learning Action Research Community was approved. A month later, we had a fortunate encounter with another member working from Java, Indonesia, and now this action research community is working on 16 different projects to enrich and capture the cultural perspective of the current situation across continents.

We have been documenting the personal testimonies through education processes, video recordings, interviews, public dialogue, artistic creations, observations, and documents. In so doing we have analyzed the multiple ways in which people improvise and adapt to something so all consuming, and unexpected.

Around the world, we have observed the vast disparities prompted by current social systems. In Ecuador, we have seen how private universities were able to afford the migration to virtual platforms, capacitating faculty, and helping students. Meanwhile, public universities have been defunded, faculty dismissed, and students left to protest in the streets.

In North America, some schools were able to provide devices for every student to enjoy connectivity; others were not so fortunate. In South America, we observed cases where parents had to choose between risking their health by working the streets, or letting hunger be their families’ destiny. In parts of the Americas and Asia, we have seen how students had to wait for their parents to get back so they could share one phone among two or three siblings to connect with teachers.

Cultural differences between urban and rural responses to the pandemic have prompted us to reflect. In urban centers, confinement, curfews, and instilling fear in each other became the norm. Despite this in, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, corpses laid unattended to decompose in the streets after the health and funerary systems collapsed.

In contrast, rural areas relied heavily on their community work and used togetherness as the drive to overcome hardship. On the island of Java in Indonesia, there was a revalorization – the process of resetting the value of something – of the relationship with the soil and agriculture.

Such a process led to the development of farming initiatives to provide food to those in need.

Despite the geography that tries to distant us, we keep growing close. We have relied on each other to keep advancing educational, cultural, and artistic work. Without such togetherness, it would not have been possible to share this with you.

Musical Learning Community:

Víctor Manuel Rubio Carrillo, PhD candidate, Frost School of Music, University of Miami

With assistance from

Natalie Vanessa Lopez, Fulford Elementary School

Joshua Argueta, Sweetwater Elementary School

David Fernando Echeverría Valencia, Universidad de los Hemisferios

Sebastián López Prado, Colegio de Bachillerato en Artes Luis Humberto Salgado Torres

Cristina Duque, Indonesian Art Institute of Yogyakarta


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A View from China: Will COVID-19 Change the Way We Teach?

Isolating at home has become the norm, in what feels like an ultra-long winter vacation!

The Chinese Ministry of Education has decreed that “classes will be suspended, without school suspension” and so, like the rest of the world, we have had to turn to the webcast.

Webcast teaching has a number of advantages. It provides students with a more flexible way of learning, with some watching ‘live’, whilst others can, so long as they can access the Internet, undertake their learning when it is convenient.

There are also many online live teaching platforms, our class models are live broadcast, mu class, conference room, QQ group, WeChat group and so on. Teachers and students choose what is suitable for them, according to their own needs.

Most of the live broadcast software has recording and broadcasting function, and in places where you don’t understand or didn’t pay attention (and we all lapse at times), you can go back and review.

Immersive teaching videos are also far more vivid than words. After watching the teaching video online, students can also leave messages and send e-mails to the teacher about problems they do not understand; providing that two-way interaction and feedback that we all miss when we are not face-to-face.

Of course, there are also some challenges in online teaching.

Colleges and universities all over the country launched “online teaching” all at the same time. Due to too many people online at once, there have been problems such as stutter, flicker, and the continuous spooling circle.

Students also have to download and be familiar with many platforms, and there is not enough mobile space. Some students have also reported they have been busy downloading and learning to use the major online course applications had added to the stress of being a student.

There are also some students who live in remote mountainous areas who have to find the Internet on foot every day; and so it can take a lot of trouble to attend classes.

At the same time, online teaching challenges a student’s autonomous learning ability.

Many teachers say that in the classroom, teachers have more control over students, and it is difficult for students to escape from the teacher’s gaze. Online teachers can only see on-screen comments and ‘likes’, and it is difficult to evaluate students’ learning status immediately. There are also many students reflect that the environment at home is not as good as the classroom; noisier, more interference, and so learning efficiency is not so high.

No doubt these problems are universal – and so it will be interesting to see how many of these practices we retain, and how many we give up, when teaching in physical classrooms resumes.

Su Hong is a Senior Nurse Lecturer at Harbin Medical University Daqing. She also collaborates with staff at Edge Hill University


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Coping During the Current Global Pandemic: A View from Australia

The current COVID pandemic has hit us all both professionally and personally. Personally, I am very relaxed and easy-going person who manages stress in my work and personal life easily through a combination of regular exercise, prioritizing, and controlling what I can control and not worrying about what I cannot control.

The current pandemic is one of those uncontrollables!

However, the dramatic change imposed on both my personal life and my work life, did see my stress levels initially rise before becoming aware of the need to cope better using the mechanisms above and ensuring I stay connected with colleagues at work and friends in my personal life. Sharing the ‘pain’ and uncertainty of the future openly!

Professionally, the Australian University sector has been hit hard because of the pandemic and closure of both international and state borders. The Australian tertiary education sector has a very strong reliance on international students mainly from China. Indeed, in the state of New South Wales, 32% of the combined $11.4 billion revenue is from international students.

In Australia, 46,480 international students arrived in April 2019.

In April 2020 that figure was 30!

A huge impact on enrolment numbers and thus income to both universities and the local and Australian economy.

While my own not-for-profit University has not been as strongly impacted by a downturn in student numbers, most government-funded Universities have been hit hard due to a on over-reliance on fee-paying international students over many years.

This over-reliance has recently been exaggerated by growing political tension between China and Australia who have a strong reliance and strategic defense partnership with Donald Trump’s USA. Indeed, over recent weeks the COVID-related downturn in international student numbers has been hit again by China openly discouraging students from attending Australian universities. 

The major impacts of the downturn in income from fee-paying students have seen many Australian Universities, including our leading sandstone Universities, shedding both academic and professional staff with research income-dependent staff the most at risk.

While my own University has not seen redundancies, no new positions are being advertised, sessional staff are not being utilized as much, and both academic and professional staff are being encouraged to take accumulated leave to assist budgeting. Morale is still high and the leadership open and transparent. We promote a ‘we are in this together’ approach and include students in this approach. To facilitate this dramatic change in delivery, an extra two weeks leave were added onto the between semester break. This extra time allowed our Office of Learning and Teaching to upskill teaching staff on best practice for remote delivery and to prepare students via video-updates on how to learn most effectively in remote mode. This approach appears to have worked.

Within Australia we appear have managed the pandemic better than most. We wish our colleagues in Europe and the UK well during these challenging times. We are all in this together!      

Peter Reaburn – Professor and Head, Exercise and Sport Science, Bond University, Australia.


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The Asian Century is Underway – but will Universities in the West lose out?

UK universities suffer worst-ever rankings in world league table while Asian institutions rise.

Sure, we can blame a lot on a nasty virus, but truth is we all know this has been building up for some time. If you are surprised that the Asian Century is now well and truly underway then frankly you’ve not been paying attention.

It’s 15 years since Joseph E. Stiglitz duly predicted this would be the ‘Chinese Century’ and nothing that has happened since suggests he was wrong. If you require any further evidence that The Future is Asian, then I suggest you read Parag Khanna’s book (2019) of the same title.

I am shortly to do professional development with UK Independent Schools, advising them on how to combat this emergent paradigm in their marketing to potential Asian students; a market suddenly in decline. And yes, there are solutions, but none will come easy.

Western universities don’t yet know just how big a drop there will be in international student enrolment, but it will be severe.

In the UK alone, the number of Chinese applicants for a Tier 1 visa (a common route for wealthy students to study in the UK) is down 72% in the first three months of this year. While Asian-based student recruitment agencies report a 90% drop in interest in UK education destinations and a staggering 95% drop for USA, Australian, French and German schools and universities.

Covid-19 is most definitely contributing to the problem, but that alone doesn’t explain why WeChat groups across China are currently flooded with comments such as these:

“Many of us are very surprised at how poorly some advanced countries in Western Europe have handled the pandemic. We always thought that both the quality of life and health in Western societies were far better than in China, but now our views have changed.”

(Alice Tan, business owner based in Guangzhou)

Sure, you can blame individual politicians but perhaps the cause is deeper rooted than simply the failings of two blustering, inadequate political leaders.

The Chinese government has many problems, but the pandemic makes me feel that foreign countries’ governments have even bigger ones. We (Chinese) will all have second thoughts [about the attractions of the West] from now on.”

(Richard Shen, a white-collar worker for a foreign firm in Shanghai, whose family run two chain restaurants in the city)

These comments provide stark evidence of a turn away from the West, with urban rich Asians critically reappraising any assumptions they once held that the West, especially its culture and politics, is the model for Asians to follow.

Consequently, in the near future an existential line will be crossed – we may be crossing it now – and that line will be when Western is no longer seen as the default orientation for ambitious Asian global citizens blessed with material and cultural capital.

Dr Stephen Whitehead lives in Thailand, where he works as a consultant for international schools and as Lead Writer for Educational Digest International.


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