A Resilience Model for Higher Education

In this blog Monomita Nandy explores how Higher Education Institutes can start rebuilding after COVID-19. 

“An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor” (Taylor Cauldwell).

The hardest task facing higher education institutions (HEIs) is the prospect of rebuilding after the coronavirus. Thus, in our research we started examining the recovery literature that can assist HEIs in helping them prepare for the challenges they are facing. Because of various stakeholder groups that can be found in HEIs, it is hard to apply one specific model for recovery, and similarly there is limited focus on behavioural changes in the recovery literature (Volman et al. 2013). Moreover, individuals feel recovered when their behaviours are influenced by increased resources (Binnewies et al. 2009). However, the continuous expansion of coronavirus cases and limited resources may actively prevent the creation of a state of feeling ‘recovered’ within HEIs.

HEIs are eager to identify a sustainable and feasible model to adopt for the ‘new normal’, one which will also absorb all changes required for health and safety. Furthermore, a sustainable and resistant model for HEI performance should have the capacity to consider the current socio-economic state as a ‘threshold’. From the existing recovery models, we examine the feasibility of the widely used recovery model, the Effort Recovery Model (ERM) (Meijman and Mulder ,1998).

Like any other industry, the stakeholders of the HEI need a “no work time” to recover from the physiological and psychological strain of work. However, stakeholders of HEIs may develop a stressful psychological experience during crises such as the pandemic as they remain busy adapting to the changed environment. The high mental activation may influence the learning adversely (Sonnentag and Fritz 2007). Lack of psychological detachment and delay in the rebuilding of resources lost increases the feeling of misalignment. Thus, the current pandemic influences the psychological experiences of individuals and affects the behaviour of members of HEIs in such a manner that rebuilding the experience of the individuals during the crisis will be a big challenge for the HEIs.

It is evident from the above explanation that the existing recovery models including the ERM are unsuitable for the HE sector in post Covid-19 (Van Wijhe et al 2013).  The unique position of HEIs requires them to be able to make local adjustments in response to external changes specific to them, as well as react to the individual needs of their many stakeholders.

The ERM and other existing recovery models are good in explaining how to enhance the capacity to adapt to threats but they have not been tested within a pandemic.  Moreover, the available models do not capture the evolving nature of resilience. Thus, there is a need for a resilience model that will allow HEIs not only to survive during the pandemic but will also teach them how to cope and thrive in the future. Based on the above argument, we propose the 3 “Dips” (Tang, 2020) resilience model for the post COVID-19 period. The three “Dips” are as follows:

Dip 1. “Crisis”:  The organisation focuses on surviving the “known enemy”. Survival in the crisis period is helped by adrenaline as the community pulls together providing support. The hardest slog comes is when the crisis is conquered.

Dip 2. “Rebuilding”:  the storm is calm, keyworkers are exhausted, devastation in the form of debt, despair, loss, trauma is prominent and compassion runs dry. HEIs must pick up again when there is less camaraderie, less charity, fewer resources, and even more fear of “now what?”

Dip 3. “Thrive”: stakeholders of HEIs say they are okay and finally back to “normal”, but if they stop here the HE sector stagnates and moves backwards. Thus, thriving is essential.

Taking the approach of a 3 level climb explains the underlying stressful experience of students, staff, researchers and other stakeholders in detail, and can help HEIs to rebuild the system in case of future disaster; it also encourages them to look to colleagues, the community and the environment for innovative means of support.  Further, it approaches recovery and growth as an ongoing and interlinked mechanism. We believe that a better understanding of the three “Dips” of the resilience model will allow the HEIs to adjust the system with the dynamic and changing “New Normal”. The following are the guidelines for the HEIs in the mentioned 3 Dips:

  • When HEIs are in Dip 1 they have to think about how to survive in the period of crisis, HEIs must be flexible, adaptive, collaborative, and learn new skills. An approach of versatility must be embedded within the personnel and within the system.
  • During Dip 2, HEIs should be ready to recover from exhaustion and start to rebuild. Here HEIs must maintain the faith of the stakeholders through celebration of successes, constructive collaboration, and a vision of a thriving future.
  • In Dip 3 HEIs must recognise that while “back to normal” may mark the end of their recovery, it is also the start of their growth. HEIs must continue to develop their staff and students for the future, as well as ensure their recovery strategies are still serving, adapting accordingly.  They may use this period to innovate and build on the positive structures put in place during D1 and D2.

The psychological challenges for HEIs are different at each point, but the message remains the same: they need to build the fitness beforehand, like physical fitness. Resilience is not about the final test, it is about preparing for it long before HEIs will require it to prove their worth.

We developed a set of questions that each HEI can ask now, during the rebuild period and at the time when the HEI needs to thrive. The questions in Appendix A will allow the HEI to understand which dip in the resilience model they are in, and accordingly can prepare to apply the necessary recovery plan. Perfect conditions rarely exist for long in the real world, and “rare” events happen more often than one would think (The Atlantic, 2020). By applying the resilience model, HEIs can be responsive, alert and fulfil their noble objectives in the post COVID-19 period and beyond.


Monomita Nandy, Brunel Business School

 Audrey Tang, CLICK Training

 Suman Lodh, Middlesex University Business School



Questions for HEIs to consider during survival, recovery and growth (Tang 2020)


Before or during the Survival period

  • What or who keeps you going when you are exhausted?
  • How can you take or find respite while in a period of crisis?
  • What is the minimum you need during the crisis stage in order to survive? (Thus leaving less to repay, restore or rebuild)


During the Rebuild period

  • Who or what of your new collaborations can assist with your restoration?
  • What renewed, revisited or transferrable skills can now be utilised?

…and do a regular “sense check” on the consumer and client climate, exploring new areas or opportunities where possible.


When able to thrive

  • Have all the exposed weaknesses been addressed satisfactorily?
  • What lessons were learned and how can they inform your current decisions?
  • Have your shown appreciation to all those who came together to pull through to this point…and do you continue to do so?



Binnewies C, Sonnentag S and Mojza EJ (2009) Feeling recovered and thinking about the good sides of one’s work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 14: 243–256.

Cauldwell T (1983) A Pillar of Iron. USA Mass Market and 2017 published by Open Road Media.

Meijman TF and Mulder G (1998) Psychological aspects of workload. In P. J. D. Drenth & C. J. de Wolff (Eds.), Handbook of work and organizational psychology, Vol. 2: Work psychology (pp. 5–33). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Tang A (2020) The Leader’s Guide to Resilience. Pearson & FT in press.

Van Wijhe  C, Peeters  M, Schaufeli  W and Ouweneel E (2013) Rise and shine: Recovery experiences of workaholic and nonworkaholic employees. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 22: 476–489.