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The COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the novel challenges of higher education

Jun 21,2020 - Last updated at Jun 21,2020

I was rather indisposed to write about this subject, but, on second thought, I rendered I should because of the ample, stimulating and convoluted academic ramifications it entails.

The so-called Coronavirus pandemic has bewilderingly enforced imperative academic and financial pressure on universities in the four corners of the globe on the spot. University campuses ubiquitously had to move their courses online in a hurry, and, to make things even more complicated, students, on the other hand, began demanding course refunds, thereafter, in light of the prevailing new situation. 

Urgent, pressing (academic and otherwise) questions, in contrast, have begun to arise in the aftermath of this pandemic, in a way unprecedented: How should higher education leaders respond to the Coronavirus crisis? How will this pandemic affect 2020/2021 students and classes? Will a second wave of COVID-19 incapacitate campuses again? How will health issues drive professors and students? And, more importantly, when are we going to recover from the financial disaster of this pandemic? Would a finding of a possible vaccine put an end to this rather rushed way of global thinking? 

In the wake of this pandemic, to be sure, higher education leaders worldwide have nowhere to turn except their governments to make the difficult resource allocation decisions that, paradoxically, could provide students with a healthier education at an affordable, reasonable cost! For in this complex-in-demands situation, what one expects from higher education leadership is a concept for an avant-garde and radical restructuring of the entire common educational system at hand, many are forced to believe.

Universities, in my view, may have to consider closing institutes and centres that are not directly related to fundamental teaching and learning, and adopt, instead, a more thorough, practical focus on instructional activities and skills that enable students to learn and improve their learning and market-oriented outcomes so that the market can be confident a college degree prepares university students for a hands-on, worthwhile workforce.

Along this intricate path of thought, it is high time to vehemently address essential, fundamental questions such as these, as examples: Why should a four-year undergrad degree require 120/130 credit hours, for instance? Do we still need to see “elective courses”, exist in common study plans, which mostly have no relationship to students’ majors? Will universities still be able to continue to afford such lavishness? Would employers still welcome university graduates whose academic training did not possibly prepare them for the ever-changing excellence demands and skills of a real-world taskforce?

This “new-normal-pandemic” situation shall, without doubt, have a strong, if somewhat challenging, impact on the possible educated answers and higher education establishments and institutions across the world in the near future. In such a stern state, flexibility and pliability are key to education business steadiness, excellence and “wellness”.

To conclude, can Universities really become “digital” without hindering or risking the quality and excellence of campus education, without ironically “distancing” professors and students alike from grave, in-depth, serious-minded, cultured campus education, without making technology unwittingly replace professors, without putting the technology cart before the horse, without risking “studentship”, without deconstructing the basic tenets and creeds of sound higher education altogether, without obliterating “schooling”, so to speak? What is the final verdict about the COVID-19 and higher education situation? Is it the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

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