Delta Wright

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have highlighted the need for crisis management in higher education. Crisis management in the form of crisis planning and the use of existing crisis management models to understand how crises occur and how they can help Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) mitigate against damages (Karlsson & Offord, 2023; Spais & Paul, 2021). It can be assumed that most UK) HEIs do not have crisis management plans. The supporting evidence shows that majority of the literature on crisis management in Higher Education (HE) comes from the USA, Australasia, and the rest of Europe. The question is then, “Is crisis management really needed in UK higher education?”.

Crises are inevitable, even in a country such as the UK that suffers from relatively few natural disasters, has a stable economy, military system, and good health care that prioritises physical and mental wellbeing for its citizens. These represent the major areas in which a natural or man-made crisis could develop potentially affecting HE. The UK HE sector seemed to manage the COVID-19 crisis well due to its existing online systems for communication and teaching. Thus, UK HEIs seemed to have organic resilience, especially when compared to other nations such as Romania, Ghana, and Jamaica, which were unprepared and had little to no online systems in place prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Due to the seemingly inherent organic resilience in the UK, HE sector, the overall thinking is that crisis management would be a waste of time and resources.

While UK HEIs had online structures prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition from face -to-face to emergency remote teaching (ERT) was neither seamless nor satisfactory for education stakeholders. Many lecturers were under stress due to increased pressures from online engagement (Pintarič & Kravanja, 2020). Lecturers also spent more time preparing for classes especially STEM laboratory practical’s. Students were generally dissatisfied with low motivation to learn and STEM students found it more difficult to engage with online practical activities. Having adopted a business facing approach to education, UK HEIs have positioned their students (major stakeholders) as consumers. These students are now expecting universities to have crisis management plans in place to inform them of how their education will continue in a crisis (Rayburn et al., 2021). The concept of “education as a business” enables students to dictate to universities how they should operate to protect their educational achievement and continuity. These student expectations are valid enough reasons for UK HEIs to plan for crises. After all, as businesses it would be remiss of administrators to know of their stakeholder needs and expectations yet deliberately fail to meet them, even in a crisis. Education continuity as seen in the literature and demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 lockdown is a must. With the potential for increased crisis events due to various geopolitical and environmental changes, the incorporation of crisis management in UK HE is inevitable. The major stakeholders, expect it and the overall operational model of education as a business demands it.

Delta Wright is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University