As businesses and institutions around the world face the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis, 77 experts across 17 countries, from 31 leading TH&E institutions and organisations of THE-ICE Network, came together to discuss solutions in the face of significant disruption to the education sector.
Held on Thursday, 26th March 2020, the objective of the global webinar was for members of THE-ICE network to come together, support each other and share information relating to how individual institutions are coping with, or handling the effects of, COVID-19 in each of their home countries.
The webinar was facilitated by THE-ICE Business Alliance Partner, Higher Education Leadership Institute (HELI), and hosted by Mr Alan Williams, HELI Marketing and Communications Officer & Fellow of THE-ICE. Attendees heard from five panellists representing both the northern and southern hemispheres, and both public and private education institutions. Dr Paul Whitelaw (Southern Cross University, Australia), Ms Christina Aquino (Lyceum of the Philippines University, Australia), Mr John Daly (Swiss Education Group, Switzerland), Dr Sarah Rawlinson (University of Derby, United Kingdom) and Dr Peter Ryan (Higher Education Leadership Institute, Australia) shared their experiences and perspectives on the current, and anticipated, impact of COVID-19, including the steps that their institutions are taking to overcome these challenges to prioritise the safety and security of their staff and students.
From the open discussion and panellist perspectives, four key areas of focus emerged:
- Online learning and simulation
- Applications and admissions, including the administration of online exams
- Managing staff and student wellbeing
- Student placements, internships, and practical education
Within these four areas, the following key takeaways were highlighted:
Online teaching and learning, including the administration of online exams and assessment, as well as the use of simulations as a teaching and learning tool
- The shift to online learning has been less stressful for those institutions with an existing dispersion of students across countries, but even those institutions with a predominantly domestic, on-campus student body have found that the implementation of/shift to online learning has been well-received, with more detailed and personal feedback being delivered.
- Assessment deadlines have been extended by a week or two in some cases, allowing many students to return home (domestically or internationally) but remain engaged.
- Challenges are being faced in running a legally valid examination online, outside of the controlled environment of an examination room.
- In countries where stable and consistent internet access is not a given, institutions face the challenge of assuring continuity and quality of education for all students with “low-tech” options in addition to “high-tech”.
- IT and technical support are crucial, as is the capturing and documentation of new best practices.
- Increased collaboration between colleagues and institutions, and with industry, are both important and highly valuable.
- It was suggested that there may be scope to revisit and reorganise education management, especially in terms of online learning delivery, avenues for staff collaboration, and the functionality and flexibility of learning management systems.
Applications and admissions
- While some universities are providing unconditional offers for admission, this is not in the best interest of students. Institutions can work with their partners to consider applications and admissions on a case-by-case basis.
- It was suggested that there may be scope for artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in the processing of applications.
Managing staff and student wellbeing
- This is a time of significant uncertainty, and both staff and students are understandably anxious. Provision of counselling and guidance have been beneficial, seeking flexible ways to allow students to continue to engage with their learning, especially across time zones.
- Some institutions have suspended tuition fees and maintained staff salaries, despite altered working and studying conditions, to help ease financial anxieties.
- It is important for institutions to remember that, especially in the case of international students returning to their home countries, students may not be in a physically or financially stable position as they aim to continue their studies, and allowances should be made for this on a case-by-case basis, where possible.
- Some institutions have focused on reformulating their organisational objectives, placing staff and student wellbeing at the forefront and ensuring that these revised objectives are clearly communicated to all.
- Despite the disruption, both students and staff have been flexible and supportive, and institutions shouldn’t be afraid to ask their staff and students to operate differently.
Student placements, internships, and practical education
- These have been cancelled or withdrawn in almost all cases, but there is no online supplement that can be a true substitute for practical industry experience. In the meantime, simulations can help students to refine their skills online.
- Emerging from this crisis, the industry will no doubt have different needs and institutions must try to prepare their students for these changing needs.
The recording of the webinar can be accessed here.