COVID-19 effect: Blending new ideas in foreign education
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It was Richard’s (name changed) dream to go overseas for higher education. Like many students, he started preparing for this a year before the start of the academic year. He spent time applying to various accredited universities overseas, scholarships, managing finance and all other formalities that were needed to attain his dream. But, the coronavirus-induced restrictions have left him puzzled. While he got an admission in a renowned European University, he is unsure whether to continue or back out from the course as the first-semester is now online. This narrative is not limited to Richard, but is something that is bothering many students who had planned of going abroad for education this year.

Waiting game

The decision is more like a being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. But experts feel the decision to delay higher education because the first semester is going online is not the right move. Blended education — a mix of online and campus education — is here to stay, stated Ananya Mukherjee, Provost and Vice-President Academic, University of British Columbia Okanagan, during a webinar titled ‘Confused about going to college in Fall, 2020?’ organised by EduPeer. Stating this as a new normal, Mukherjee added, “We should be a part of shaping this new normal (rather than trying to resist).”

Sanam Arora, Founder and Chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU), says students who are waiting for it (blended education) to end and then join a university, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Online education

Many accredited universities around the world had already started online courses along with their on-campus courses. One such university is Deakin University, Australia. Ravneet Pawha, Deputy Vice President – Global and CEO (South Asia) of Deakin University Australia, during the webinar, informed that the university has been a digital one for the last 40 years. “There have been many students that have been using our digital campus. Thus, we were able to adapt to digital classes completely within 24 hours of the lockdown.”Experts believe this pandemic just fast-forwarded the process of digitalisation of education system across the world by 10 years. “If it were not for the pandemic, the universities would have taken a good about 10-20 years to complete this process.”

Pawha added the blended form of learning will become the new normal among universities — 30 per cent will be on-campus, 30 per cent will be online, 30 per cent on your own and 10 per cent practical.

Meanwhile, Vatsal Chandra, Regional Recruitment and Development Officer of the University of Essex, during the webinar, claimed for many students online education is not a new phenomenon. Coursera, Udemy, Upgrad and other such platforms are already offering online learning which is based on study material either offered by various accredited universities or developed with the help of industry professionals. Then there are institutions like Harvard University, Duke University, Yale University, Stanford Universities, King’s College London, UCL (University College London) have been offering online learning for some time now. These platforms offer lakhs of courses that are niche in nature which will, otherwise, be difficult to find in the various universities, stated Arora.

Fear of missing out

Arora explained that there is no doubt that students are worried about missing out the experience, but they should not forget that starting from this batch onwards there will be a lot of initiatives and programmes to encourage international students. “If the actual COVID-19 is not considered at this given point of time, a student should look at the brighter side and that is more flexibility in visa regulations going forward and other incentives for students.”

Meanwhile, students who take up courses in their own countries in the Fall of 2020 will still be eligible for post-study work in Australia. Ensuring the students who were attending the webinar, Anju Singh, Regional Director of US Global operations of University of Arizona, United States, stated the present visa situation in the United States will change for good.

At present, students across various universities are protesting and asking universities to refund their tuition fees. While the courses have gone online, Mukherjee stated the faculty continues to teach and there are other administrative costs. However, many institutions are discussing this issue. Going forward, universities will have to adapt to a cost-effective model, suggested Arora.

Remote campuses

Singh revealed that the University of Arizona will work with partner institutions in India for on-campus programmes. Besides, the university has partnered with 99workspace. This is more or less to allow students to work in groups at the same time work among start-ups and other institutions. Mukherjee stressed that establishing a connection with students will be a challenge going forward, but they will have to do, whatever it takes.

Future prospect

Mukherjee highlighted for most students who graduate this academic year and will in the coming few years, every employer will focus on their COVID-19 experience. So, she advised them to be rather prepared for this question. This means every student will have to find a meaningful task (read online skill-development programmes that would appeal to employers) at this difficult time.

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