GUest Blog: Dawn Dullaway and Alec Webb blog about the importance of tech in staying connected

In this ever-changing landscape, it has been essential for London Higher and London Higher members to rapidly adapt to a different way of working. One of the key advantages to being part of a membership based organisation, such as London Higher, is coming together to tackle the challenges we collectively face, share best practice and turn to each other for support and advice during difficult times. At London Higher, the ongoing situation has provided not only burdens for our members to overcome, but has also provided an opportunity for greater collaboration and provided new ways of collaborative activities for all London Higher members.

In a short space of time, London’s higher education institutions have found themselves tacking many challenging issues ranging from how do we deliver course content online, to how do we support students and staff virtually, to how do we operate at the frontline of the pandemic and support vital sectors such as the NHS. For example, the London Healthcare Education Group has been at the forefront of the crisis, with London universities providing essential training at Nightingale Hospital London and vital staffing for the NHS during this pandemic. This group have met weekly with colleagues in the NHS to discuss how to tackle the challenges of the pandemic.

In addition to the London Healthcare Education Group, all London Higher working groups and committees have moved and met online. These range from topical task groups such as the London Weighting task group to longstanding working groups such as the London Higher Planners’ group. During this time London Higher has provided opportunities for online gatherings, including regular video conferences for London Higher Heads of Institutions to monthly meetings for Mental Health and Student Wellbeing experts to discuss best practice in providing support to students. While London Higher has always operated in a collegiate, trusting and collobartive manner, it has been encouraging to see the level of support offered to and from colleagues across London Higher members, from the biggest of institutions to the smallest of conservatories.

Technology has been paramount in order to adapt to new ways of working. As an example of the impact technology has had on our working groups, Professor Kathy Curtis, Associate Dean of External Engagement at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London comments on the importance of tools such as ‘Zoom’ and ‘Microsoft Teams’ in responding to the COVID- 19 emergency, “During the last 2 months the usual face to face exchanges moved into our new normal; a virtual world that encompasses so much of daily life in response to the C19 emergency. Online flexibility has enabled widening of the discussion group and increased frequency of meetings to respond to new announcements and raise collective queries, while retaining our strong pan-London collegiality.”

As we contemplate a new normal, and begin to shift our thinking from tackling the challenges of the immediate pandemic response, to contemplating the challenges that await us for a September return to delivering world-class education and research, technology will continue to be a vital enabler in bringing together London Higher’s members.