Just one year ago, integrating digital tools into research and teaching was thought of as a long-term process just beginning to take off. But the COVID-19 pandemic yanked classrooms into the digital age at a stunning pace. An online conference on 3 June 2021 brought together policymakers, theorists, practitioners and students from the CIVICA alliance and beyond for a download of their experiences at the university level during the pandemic.

“Digitalisation and the Future of Higher Education” was hosted by the Hertie School through the CIVICA alliance of eight European social science universities. The aim was to better understand what worked well during the emergency situation, which proved to be a sort of experiment that catapulted universities into a new era of digital education.

In fact, prior to the pandemic, the CIVICA alliance was already exploring and expanding possibilities for digital teaching and research.

“One of the key goals of CIVICA and other European University alliances is to drive innovation in higher education,” said Mark Hallerberg, Acting President of the Hertie School. “Since the start of the pilot phase in 2019, we have been experimenting with new formats in order to connect the eight higher education institutions within our alliance. Digital activities and tools have played a key role in our strategy from the very beginning.”

Annika Zorn, an expert in digital learning and Director of the Hertie School’s Doctoral Programmes, leads a Digital Learning Team at the Hertie School, which was created to devise digital solutions for the CIVICA project. The team had started in 2019 to introduce a variety of digital tools, with the idea of enabling cross-border cooperation among the eight-institution alliance supported by the European Commission as part of its European University Initiative.

Zorn moderated the post-pandemic conference and called on participants to join a broader discussion to continue after the event. “We would like to build a community of people who are interested in digitalisation of higher education,” she said. “We would like this conference to be the start of an ongoing discussion. A lot has happened, and we now need to listen and learn from each other, at all levels – more research is needed, more insights are needed. There is a lot of work to do to take the best from these experiences.”

In a keynote speech, Isidro Laso Ballesteros, cabinet expert for Commissioner Mariya Gabriel of the European Commission, spoke about the policy approach of the Commission toward digital education and knowledge sharing.

A panel discussion brought together professors, students and administrators to share their experiences and takeaways for future online, hybrid and distance learning. The panel included Anke Hassel, Professor of Public Policy, Hertie School; Dilly Fung, Pro-Director for Education, The London School of Economics and Political Science; Hilda Hardell, third-year bachelor student, Stockholm School of Economics; Leonardo Caporarello, Professor of Practice of Organizational Behavior, Bocconi University; and Remus Pricopie, Rector, National University of Political Studies and Public Administration Romania (SNSPA).

Participants in the conference came from around the world – from the CIVICA community to representatives of universities abroad, policymakers, education stakeholders, and people from the public and private sector interested in innovation.

Watch a video recording of the event here

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Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.

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