‘The New Normal’ Engage at Lunch Webinar Series

‘The New Normal’ Engage at Lunch Webinar Series

There is a specific part of the universal crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic that belongs to universities and Engagement Australia has its own role to play within the broader picture.

Coronavirus has created a ‘crisis cohort’ which will scar students’ lives if not addressed. Many students world-wide as well as here in Australia will not finish their studies outside of ‘special measures’ and already unemployment and economic disruption are impacting on national economies. This current crisis seems to portend something even worse than the GFC with huge falls of GDP and accompanying mass unemployment predicted.

Young Australian workers and new Australian graduates are likely to be hardest hit; they work fewer hours and are more likely to be unemployed in times of crisis. The ‘finance economy’ and the maxing out of credit systems are unsustainable for the long-term future of our young people. Furthermore, young people it seems are increasingly subject to mental health problems and depression.

There is a debt due to those who follow us. This involves our capacity to ensure that there is no disadvantage conferred on our next generation simply because they were young when the pandemic hit. We cannot allow a young graduate precariat to emerge nor tolerate youth unemployment which has scarred many nations across the globe in recent times.

This situation accelerates us in the universities towards a new view of how our universities might change and adapt to meet this crisis, and how this may inform our readiness and response for, inevitably, the next.

In the immediate term many Australian universities are responding to the Federal Government’s lead to develop a suite of micro-credentialled short courses (on-line) to support workforce development and redeployment strategies, particularly in areas of national interest, such as aged care.

Do we now need to seriously consider a new offer to our students which learns from the present deadly serious crisis AND which addresses the even greater threats from the impending ecological and climate crises which now bedevil our world? The Bushfire Crisis for many now is a distant memory; at a time when those directly impacted by the fires are still recovering they find their lives are now being compounded by the pandemic.

Next month Engagement Australia will launch its free and online ‘Engage at Lunch’ webinar series themed ‘The New Normal’ that will showcase the latest thinking, ideas and strategies about how our cherished sector can support our crisis cohort and our communities, in a new and meaningful way.

These ideas and strategies will be generated by the sector, of the sector and for the sector, argued by our very best academic leaders who consider themselves locked down rather than locked up!  They will argue persuasively that any new offer to our crisis cohort students and communities must include:

  • a free and continuing connection and registration for further study and qualifications, with such offers conditional on their making a contribution to the social welfare, health and /or social solidarity of our communities
  • a new qualification offer which has critical thinking and personal engagement embedded within it and which focuses on safeguarding social cohesion, co-operation and mutual benefit for communities
  • a review and refreshing of all curricula to provide useful and professional skills connected to our communities in the light of what we have learned about social justice and the health and social crisis of ‘coronavirus’
  • a review and broadcasting of what Australian universities can and will do to make learning the engine of progressive social change. This will involve necessarily public recognition of the need to address the issues of sustainable development and impending ecological and social disasters (F.D.Rooseveldt’s New Deal in the USA in the 1930s showed how investment in public works, in people’s skills, in socially progressive arts and cultural projects, in public health and education can transform potential into actual achievements.)

We are very lucky because we work with what seem to be endless and recurring generations of young people who have flooded through our doors into our classrooms and laboratories in recent decades. An ever-expanding and secure economy was for many the unspoken and unacknowledged condition for this, which was safe and secure down the generations. The coronavirus has shown us this is not the case. We have been shown how precarious and insecure our lives can be. We must be thankful for the eternal optimism of youth which will not be phased by the size and difficulty of the task but if we underestimate the challenge, we shall betray their trust in us.

The rising generation need a better legacy than the one presently on offer and it falls to us to accept the challenge and make the change, does it not?