Back in Distance Learning - a call to Students

Since Monday, 22nd November 2021 Austria is back in a full lockdown.

I certainly do not want to discuss the necessity of this full lockdown here, but what I want to discuss is the fact that Unis are back in distance learning, while Schools and Kindergarten stay open. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support the decision that Schools and Kindergarten stay open, but what doesn’t figure is that Unis went into distance mode all over again.

On the surface it makes sense: the infections are on an all-time high and keeping Unis open would look strange to many people. However, the fact that many Unis sent their students into distance learning even before the official anouncement of the full lockdown and for a longer period than the full lockdown, and even given the fact that the minister of education has not made it mandatory, and worst of all that the students sheepishly accept it without any uprising has led me to the following insights and conclusions:

  • The student generation is too busy with other topics that they think matter but that don’t. This has the consequence that they simply don’t realise how the (education) system and the people in power winds them up: students of today have spent half or more of their studies in distance learning, many of them will graduate with a substantial amount of debt from student loans, they will have to go through unpaid internships, accept low salaries and worst of all they won’t be able to afford reasonable housing despite the effort and time they put into their education! The sad thing is that the students are played by the system which appeals to them by offering them support in the topics which the students think matter but which ultimately don’t making the students ally up with the system which then betrays them.

  • The education system has no real incentive to deliver truly excellent teaching and research. The education system has become an administrative bloat, led by top-down management, driven by optimized processes and HR, all talking about “excellence of teaching and research”, while clearly they are not very much interested about the students and excellence as long as the students are dealt with and Marketing can publish fancy success stories of all sort of superficial achievements. Ultimately the system does not take students serious anymore and simply exploits them - to what end is unclear to me, as there is very little true power running a Uni or even an education system.

  • Students have no lobby, so it is easy to sacrifice them. The pupils have a big lobby: their parents who need to work, which is the sole reason why schools are still open. But Students don’t have a powerful lobby. Yes, there is the Student Union but they are too busy with topics that don’t matter, which the education administration uses as a tool to control them.

  • Students do not matter economically. We pour down loads of money into various fields (especially tourism) but we don’t spend a dime supporting students. We keep companies open, but the first who go into lockdown are students and schools. Education, schools, pupils, students are at the bottom of society and they are constantly reminded by those in power where their place is: Shut up and study so you can contribute to society! This is not at all surprising as we know from the past: people in power always were very suspicious about students and desperately tried to exert control over them in the one way or another - it seems that they have finally succeeded.

  • Ultimately the case of the Unis clearly shows that decisions in times of Corona are all about deflecting and delegating responsibilities, instead of taking them on, showing courage and leading the way with a far sighted vision and strong leadership.

In the end we will see on the student side exactly the same issues we saw at the end of the all-distance uni year 6 months ago: depression, burn out, loneliness, suffering, social isolation, poor learning. Everyone will keep telling us that there was no other option than to literally sacrifice the students. I however am unwilling to accept that. After nearly 2 years there have to be better ways. And just in case you have forgotten: Unis are all about students. Without students they would be completely useless. I think this has been truly lost on the education system.

I don’t know how long it will take the students to realise this and rise in anger, but I hope they do. It is up to the students to save the system from itself - no one else will do it.