Higher education institutions (HEIs) in Germany are willing to embrace change and want to continue using digital formats even after the pandemic – these are the findings of a study commissioned by Hochschulforum Digitalisierung (German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age, HFD). What the “new normal” will look like is uncertain at this stage: clear strategies for a post-pandemic future are generally lacking, and many HEIs are still operating in crisis mode. But a trend is emerging: the change processes in university teaching accelerated by the pandemic are likely to continue in the future.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on strategic university development plans with regard to blended university teaching was the focus of a recent survey of university managers. The result: higher education institutions want to make the best of both worlds (online and on campus). There is a desire to maintain progress regarding online teaching once the pandemic is over. Forty-five per cent of HEIs in Germany have developed a permanent mix of on-campus and online teaching over the past two years, and a further 45 per cent had already done so before the outbreak of the pandemic. However, HEIs are adopting different approaches on how to deal with these developments after the “corona semesters”: while nearly 30 per cent of HEIs intend to make selective continued use of the new teaching and learning formats, 44 per cent are keen to develop them further.

Overall, the study shows a great readiness to embrace change on the part of HEIs. The university managers surveyed estimate that the proportion of face-to-face teaching will drop by around a quarter in the future. This trend is also emerging, to a lesser extent, for art, music and media academies, which experienced the greatest problems with the ad-hoc switch to online teaching. The developments of the past two years are promising, believes Julius Friedrich from the CHE Centre for Higher Education, who is also an HFD project leader: “The crisis offers an opportunity to challenge outdated learning formats, such as lectures. Online formats are an ideal alternative, especially when the focus is on imparting knowledge. Face-to-face classes can then be used more intensively for sharing thoughts and ideas, and for collaborative development and work.”

However, it appears to be too early for developing specific and, above all, universal strategies for the future. Even after two years, the ever-changing conditions presented by the pandemic are a major challenge for HEIs. Consequently, long-term strategic issues have largely taken a back seat, the study concludes.

“If, however, the proportion of online and on-campus teaching changes in the long term, this will require an adapted infrastructure,” stated Dr Jannica Budde, Project Manager at HFD for the CHE Centre for Higher Education. “This calls for strategic guidelines to be used as a basis for structural decisions. Higher education institutions must therefore ask themselves what they want to stand for after the pandemic.”

The survey, commissioned by Hochschulforum Digitalisierung, was conducted by HIS-Institut für Hochschulentwicklung e. V. (HIS-HE). The starting point of the study was the issue of how HEIs position themselves with regard to blended university teaching and the associated strategies for the future.

What do higher education institutions of the future look like? How will teaching and learning develop in the years to come? As Hochschulforum Digitalisierung sees it, blended university teaching is a potential option for the future. Further publications on this subject and activities related to blended university teaching are planned for 2022. First off is the study presented here, commissioned by HFD, on the topic of “Strategies for the future on the horizon?”, conducted by HIS-HE. This will be followed in March by the “strategie digital” magazine, which will focus on the subject of blended university teaching, and the new HFD podcast “HFD Update”, which will also address the topic in its forthcoming issue. Further activities will follow throughout the year.