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5 July 2022

Long-term strategic vision needed to deal with impact of pandemic on academia

Like the rest of society, the world of academia was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. In its report The pandemic academic, published on 5 July, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences surveys the impact of the crisis on academia.  Which of the changes brought about by the pandemic do we wish to retain, and which not?  The report also looks in depth at how pandemic impacted trust in academic research and the relationship between academia, society and politics.

The changes in academia were dramatic: COVID-related research projects quickly got off the ground and researchers shared their findings faster than ever before.  At the same time, many researchers saw their lives turned upside down due to aborted projects, the switch to online teaching and the need to work from home.  The impact has been and continues to be greatest on younger researchers employed on temporary contracts.  The rapid digitalization of academia made many things possible, but it also left universities at the mercy of Big Tech.

Since the start of the pandemic, the academic community has played a crucial role in delivering the knowledge needed to cope with the crisis.  Research and researchers were in the spotlight, had to engage with a public that was often critical of them, and were drawn into the political maelstrom.  

These changes and events have required a different view of science communication.  Scientists should not only be able explain, present and debate but should also be capable of engaging in dialogue, with an eye for the underlying values and assumptions of other scholars, governments and the public alike. The Academy advocates making science communication an integral part of the academic curriculum. It also stresses the importance of academic institutions standing squarely behind their staff and adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward any threats and harassment of researchers.

Impact on academics

The direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic vary greatly between researchers in different disciplines, depending, among other things, on their care duties, gender and career stage. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. The Academy advocates measures to reduce these inequalities. It also recommends compensating young academics generously for lost research time to prevent their becoming a ‘lost generation’.  

Academics on fire

The pandemic accelerated the pace of research.  Research funding was made available without lengthy procedures, researchers redirected their projects and teamed up, and new findings were shared at lightning speed. This new flexibility is worth preserving, although the Academy emphasises that this should not happen at the expense of quality and curiosity-driven research.  


The rapid pace of digitalization has fundamentally changed academic practices, not only in terms of teaching but also, for example, with regard to international cooperation and participation in conferences.  That has had positive effects. It has made academia more inclusive, for example, by removing such obstacles as a lack of funds or visa issues. Less travel also means a smaller ecological footprint for academics.  As traditional working practices have changed, academia can start looking for the right blend of in-person, online and hybrid working.  

The rising level of digitalization, however, also forces us to think critically about universities’ growing dependence on Big Tech. The Academy therefore calls on the universities to join forces in seeking alternative digital infrastructures and to draw up guidelines that are consistent with and ensure scientific independence.  

Cover KNAW-advies The pandemic academic

Available as pdf

The pandemic academic – How COVID-19 has impacted the research community was written by a broad-based Academy committee chaired by Natali Helberger, University Professor of Law and Digital Technology at the University of Amsterdam.

Natali Helberger about The pandemic academic

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Note for media representatives

Media questions can be sent to Jeroen Scharroo, Communication & Information Services KNAW, telephone +31 6 1109 5596 or jeroen.scharroo@knaw.nl.

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