As we recover from the pandemic, universities are there for the workforce,

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The prospect of schooling

The pandemic has led to a surge in demand among working professionals for fast, versatile and online courses, writes Professor Gerry McCormac.

The future depends on what we do in the present, and the choices we make now as a society will have far-reaching repercussions for many years to come, considering the current challenges. Scotland’s universities are an indispensable, stabilizing and innovative force, offering through education and study a wide range of opportunities for individuals and society. Our work has been crucial in terms of the response of frontline students and staff since the outbreak of the pandemic, and will be even more important for the recovery of Scotland and the well-being of our people.

Universities have seen a sharp rise in demand from people seeking fresh and constructive educational opportunities that give them the potential for positive change since the end of March, when Scotland was placed on lockdown. They have turned to universities to develop their resilience as corporations and organisations have faced unparalleled challenges.

Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and Dundee universities have rapidly reoriented and adapted their support to help resolve the crisis. At both the state and national levels, all 19 higher education institutions have invested and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.

In the early months of the pandemic, technical short courses and “micro-credentials” implemented by universities have been in overwhelming demand by individuals already in the workforce who want to develop their skills and by businesses who want to give their teams the resources to lead and adapt to climate change. This was the case with the short courses at Robert Gordon University and the University of Glasgow that were launched separately earlier this year. Glasgow is hired from all zip code areas in Scotland and staff of over 235 different businesses are members. More generally, demand came from furloughed employees, home-based workers and the unemployed who, during the hardest of times, were trying to get their careers back on track. Throughout the shutdown era, colleges were there for the middle class.

31,000 individuals at different stages of their careers selected a university course to support their career development last year. The pandemic, however, has risen and intensified this need. There are universities responding. The Open University in Scotland is offering a new series of versatile online business, math and technology continuing education modules starting next month to help staff retrain. It does not require any previous qualifications.

In 2021, in order to address crucial needs, St. Andrews will launch a new distance learning curriculum in data science. The course can act or can be combined as stand-alone modules to lead to a postgraduate certificate or diploma.

In helping individuals at all stages of their lives and careers, universities will be important. We will be a vital part of the Youth Guarantee of Scotland and facilitate intergenerational equity. Our core undergraduate programs have encountered increased demand from students who appreciate the importance of a degree for their potential success. We are proud that more and more students are graduating with a high school diploma that qualifies them for college in this sense. To ensure the employability of graduates, we are creating wider paths from college to university, and more and more people see postgraduate degrees as a way to acquire advanced skills that will give them an advantage in the competitive job market.

All of this will be important, as will the capacity of the sector to continue to diversify, expand and help form a new and agile supply. It will continue the trends we saw in 2020. As the recession is increasingly felt, the need for versatile, shorter, and online micro-skills that can be tailored to the professional and personal commitments of people and are important to their job ambitions and the demands of the evolving economy will continue to grow. A variety of structures that include opportunities, meaning and new directions would be important for the workforce. A much greater function for the world would be expected for the future.

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