Bloomsbury Institute Working Paper Series – Looking back after five years

Nnamdi O. Madichie

How are educational institutes responding to this era of self-isolation and lockdown thanks to our unwanted guest, COVID-19?

Learning, teaching and assessment strategies have changed as we adapt to social distancing and the close of campuses. Operating remotely has arguably become the new normal for most HE providers. While educational institutions have undertaken frantic efforts to adjust, the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been cashing in.

Looking back to pre COVID-19 times, Bloomsbury Institute Working Paper Series (WPS), which kicked off 5 years ago, has featured a range of articles from both staff, students and friends of the Institute. The in-house WPS, which is open to the public, covers all areas of our degree subjects – business management, law and accounting.

From the inaugural issue to the current volume, the WPS discusses past, present and future trends. Conversations have touched upon key sectors and issues cutting across servant leadership, changing consumption practices, to innovations in public transport, real estate and recruitment practices.

Following the publication of the most recent issue, it is worth reflecting on the journey so far and the implications some of the articles have for life after COVID-19.

In the inaugural volume in 2015, a range of articles featured notable discussions around “Servant Leadership in Higher Education”. Interestingly the subject of servant leadership resurfaced in 2016, in an article entitled “Development of a philosophy and practice of Servant Leadership through service opportunity.” Evidently, the discourse on servant leadership, especially in the HE context, has to do with the provision of pastoral care for students and ensuring that both their physical and mental wellbeing are supported and appropriately communicated. This has become even more of a challenge as of late and will continue for years to come.

Moving on to the second volume, an interesting contribution by an MBA student warrants highlighting. The article, “Choosing Recruitment Strategies: A Case Study of a German SME,” provides some insight into the changes taking place in the recruitment sector, from talent identification to development, and from cost of travel to interviews being whittled down as Zoom has now proved just as useful for virtual interviews.

Many graduates have expressed concerns as to how potential employers will view the quality of their degrees awarded in COVID-19 times. This is more challenging for courses and sectors that require hands-on experience – notably STEM subjects. Indeed, even Arts-based subjects are also being affected – e.g. sculpture, design, performing and visual arts.

These concerns speak to those raised in another contribution by a staff member on reputational risk. As observed above, this is a subject that most organisations are still grappling with and the impact on their stakeholders cannot be ignored. For example, how can graduate skills be measured or gauged by employers? How can graduates prove that qualifications obtained partly online reflects employability skills? How does society feel about these dynamics?

The 2018 volume of the WPS featured interesting articles around the ‘consumers’ perception, the experience of self-service checkouts in UK supermarkets” and “Cash versus Cashless”. The articles all highlight the growing need for cashless transactions. This is the new reality in life during and after COVID-19 – cashless transactions have become even more necessary and popular as contactless payment allowances have increased to £30-£45 at paypoints across the UK to curtail physical cash exchanges.

The following year in 2019, the focus moved with contributions drawn from MBA students. The role of digital has become an imperative accentuated by COVID-19 and will remain so for some time yet. Articles in that particular issue explored topics such as frugal innovation used in small acupuncture businesses in London, “Electronic Booking Systems for Black Barbershops in East London”, and “The impact of Artificial Intelligence on consumer behaviour in retail and fashion”. Obviously, these sectors are all high contact and more challenging under social distancing legislation or advice – acupuncture, hairdressing, and fashion retailing.

As life tentatively begins to return to the “new” normal, the big question in pre COVID-19 times begins to resurface – Brexit and its legal implications including immigration and human rights debates.

Indeed, the follow-on issue of the 2019 WPS featured a range of articles relevant to Brexit, including conversations around recruitment, a legal perspective on Brexit, and the Right to Justice in the legal aid system from students in the School of Law. Two of these articles pose questions around, first, the implications of a reversion from EU to English Law in a post-Brexit era. Second, reconciling observed inconsistences between the underlying principle of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the UK Human Rights Act 1998, which is enshrined in the principles of the ECHR, but may prove more difficult in its application post-Brexit.

Another important topic that draws our minds to adjustments in teaching, learning, and assessment is also captured in an article on “initiatives for eradicating contract cheating and collusion,” which highlights the dangers of the revised remote learning and teaching in a post COVID-19 world.

What will the student experience look like as the “new normal” takes root? What lessons are we supposed to have learnt about online education, face-to-face education or the hybrid in blended learning? These questions may be answered differently by universities as the sector reforms in order to balance out the student experience and the regulatory requirements.

Overall, the collection of articles in the series so far have implications for life after COVID-19. From the concerns about mitigating contract cheating in a remote teaching environment, to leveraging digital technology around financial services – not to mention servant leadership and the changing face of recruitment across organisations.