Peter Tufano reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on higher education.
By any measure, Covid-19 has reminded us of our fragile nature, witnessed by the number of lives lost, the number of businesses shuttered - possibly for good, the number of people unemployed, the rise in anxiety and a sense of isolation, and much more. Yet it has also revealed our capacity for resilience, kindness, sacrifice and service, in big ways and small. The last few months have reminded us of the value of true leadership that can inspire and keep hope alive, even whilst we face danger and are fearful. In short, we must survive, lead and serve in these Extraordinary Times.
These same forces are at work at the University and the School. Our immediate survival focus was to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, moving classes online, cancelling in-person activities, and working from home to do our part to “Stay Home and Save Lives.” For our current students, the impact was immediate: a diverse, close-knit MBA cohort dispersed across the world, reacting unexpectedly with a combination of sadness, loss and – for some – anger. The lives of staff and faculty were equally upended. For our alumni, the world of business became tougher and much less predictable. Some businesses conceived within the School’s corridors and meeting rooms, or at the Oxford Foundry, will have adapted - even succeeded - in these new conditions. Others have been less fortunate. The universities sector has itself been hit hard during this crisis. Some of our students are experiencing financial difficulties. It is vital we protect and enhance the diversity of our current and future student body through scholarships.
For us here in Oxford, leading and serving are intertwined. We were deep in the midst of a year of listening to our various stakeholders—students, alumni, faculty, staff, and corporate advisors - about the purpose of the School. Virtually every group overwhelmingly acknowledged that simply having a vaguely defined 'positive impact' was not enough—agreeing that we have to go beyond our traditional teaching and research activities to try to address some of the biggest issues facing the world.
We need to do more, just as the University itself has done - not only by publishing papers but also for example by getting engaged in the production of vaccines. And so we have. Within weeks, we mobilised to support initiatives to supercharge firms battling Covid-19 (through the Foundry’s Covid-19 Rapid Solutions Builder and Creative Destruction Lab: Recovery) and to support firms deeply weakened by Covid-19 (through the Entrepreneurship Centre’s Liber Programme and our work with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business programme.) We offered our empty Executive Education facilities to house the homeless.