Apart from the health and immediate concerns about dampening animal spirits of the economy, the novel Coronavirus has also forced a long-term rethink of the operational model of universities globally. Countries across the globe, while facing the scourge of the pandemic proceeded to lockdown the economies and consequently emptying universities, educational institutions as well as schools.
As per UNICEF, almost 1.5billion students globally (that’s almost 90% of all students in the world) can no longer attend school in person. Bereft of students, and now staring at empty halls and corridors, the administrations of the varsities are responding to the crisis by ensuring welfare for staff and making efforts to provide lectures remotely or online.
Depending on the overall intensity of the pandemic, several countries and universities have restarted operations in varying degrees. American universities have been significantly affected by the pandemic considering the nation has seen the largest number of positive cases globally. Thrown into uncertain waters while simultaneously dealing with shaky finances and a constantly evolving regulatory landscape, the universities in the country are now focusing on enabling students as well as their faculties with new technologies to provide a seamless online learning experience that’s relevant and impactful. Meanwhile, new students could expect the overall process to become a bit more complex as online tests, online schooling, educational loans evolve and change in requirements become the norm.
Back home, in India, universities and educational institutions across the country temporarily shut down starting March 2020 to avoid increasing the cases of COVID-19. The availability of cheaper broadband connectivity and the penetration of smartphones in the country has enabled a rapidly increasing number of students and their guardians to partake in online and remote learning classes. There are several reports of how educational institutions are moving to virtual classes on solutions like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Hangout sessions for video-enabled remote classrooms. Not only are the institutions working out creative ways to impart remote learning to students, but also working closely with the administration to ensure that examinations and various entrance tests are rescheduled along with moving admissions processes online. Several electronic channels including Doordarshan and All India Radio have also joined the bid to offer e-learning services to students in remote areas by bundling content from platforms like NCERT, e-PG Pathshala, National Knowledge Network and SVAYAM.
Across the border in Pakistan, when universities closed in March, many of the instructors and students too faced issues as they weren’t equipped with the necessary digital tools or even the equipment to conduct lectures online. Meanwhile, in developed countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Canada the effect of these lockdowns was more pronounced as they receive a substantial part of their revenues from international students. Slowly and steadily, some of the countries have started relaxing the various norms that would make life easier for international students. For instance, UK has extended the duration of its Post-Study Work Visa to almost two years from the previous duration of just six months, while countries like Singapore and Canada have relaxed their borders laws for students to ensure that they can return and study there.
As per Salah-Eddine Kandri, Global head, Education at IFC (International Finance Corporation – a sister organization of the World Bank and the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in developing countries), “More fundamentally, COVID-19 is causing us to challenge deep-rooted notions of when, where, and how we deliver education, of the role of colleges and universities, the importance of lifelong learning, and the distinction we draw between traditional and non-traditional learners”. Check out the interesting article from The Conversation about how universities are lending a helping hand to the fight against COVID-19.
Perhaps one key advantage of the efforts undertaken to subdue the pandemic will be the renewed focus on research and healthcare at the universities, as leading institutes like Oxford and John Hopkins University become the torchbearers for academicians involved in finding a cure for the vaccine. Another benefit would be the lowering of tuition fees in countries like Australia as they shift towards a more reasonable model which offers a certain portion of the educational syllabus through online learning classes.
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