OPINION: New reality for higher education brings challenges for Jewish academics
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OPINION: New reality for higher education brings challenges for Jewish academics

The pandemic has brought a new reality for university education. Ephraim Borowski, David Katz and Susan Pascoe reflect on what is needed to help educators adapt

A socially distanced university lecture – but UK universities are now holding them online
A socially distanced university lecture – but UK universities are now holding them online

It is no surprise to anyone that after many months of living with the coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing incredible challenges across all sectors of life – not least in Higher Education where life for academics looks very different during this academic year, and mostly likely beyond and affect us all on campus irrespective of our religion or race.

Many of the new developments have been widely publicised in terms of online delivery of lectures and classes, problems with testing and lockdown regulations, academics facing funding challenges and a likelihood of redundancies for some academic and academic related staff. In parallel, there are also likely to be greater pressures on staff with the need to provide greater pastoral support for students struggling with the pandemic.

Against this background, the Jewish community is fortunate that Jewish students can access support via the Union of Jewish Students and the University Jewish Chaplaincy. Sometimes, however, it is essential for there to be support from local Jewish academics who are able to help.  In addition, support can be hard to come by for Jewish academics and academic-related staff, but because of their diversity, there is no one group in existence to support them.

Ephraim Borowski

Religious freedom remains a recurrent challenge and it may well be that academics and academic related staff would be able to help students in their universities where problems arise over flexibility with courses and exam dates that clash with Jewish festivals and the Sabbath. The reality is that Covid-19 and virtual sitting of exams does not seem to allow for greater flexibility over exam dates which can be problematic.

Additionally, our higher education institutions are sadly not immune from the scourges of prejudice and racism that are ubiquitous across society. The Community Security Trust’s Report on “Campus Antisemitism in Britain 2018-2020” demonstrates 65 University incidents in the 2019/2020 academic year which is the highest total CST has ever recorded in a single academic year despite the year being cut short as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Union of Jewish Students has in recent months released statements about incidents affecting students at the University of Warwick and the University of Leeds showing that unfortunately such incidents are still occurring.

Susan Pascoe

In order to help address some of these issues, the Board of Deputies has met with successive Universities Ministers over the past months, directly explaining key problems to them. Now, working together with the student-orientated organisations, the Board of Deputies is exploring how it can facilitate support for Jewish staff in universities themselves; and to identify ways that Jewish staff can help students in their own campuses where appropriate and feasible.

There are already several Board resources that are available to Higher Education staff. The Employer’s Guide to Judaism is designed to offer support to those who encounter difficulties explaining their specific needs to their employers; and the Calendar of Jewish Festivals is circulated to universities (amongst others) to make them aware of the problems that will face Jewish students and staff at specific times of the year. In addition, there is a valuable CST/UJS Guide for students.

David Katz

To ensure that any additional support we provide is fit for purpose, the Board of Deputies is keen to hear from Jewish academics and academic related staff with their views and experiences about these issues, to provide insight into the challenges they may be facing, and to understand how the Board might best be able to provide support. Click here to respond, and please contact highereducation@bod.org.uk for further information.

  • Authors are Ephraim Borowski, David Katz and Susan Pascoe, who are members of the Board of Deputies Defence Division Higher Education Working Group

 

 

 

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