Published: 20th April 2020
From online courses to refunds, here's how foreign varsities are trying to find a silver lining to the Corona cloud
Universities are not just taking their courses online but taking care of upcoming admissions as well by guiding students about visa and travel
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. Universities across the world have shifted to online teaching mode while students who were set to go abroad to pursue higher education are in a fix due to the restrictions on travel and social distancing protocols that are in place. While admission processes might get affected in some cases, the universities are trying to find a way to normalise the situation as much as possible. An estimated 50 lakh Indian students study overseas, according to reports.
Ashley Fernandez of the Emlyon Business School in France said that they have no intention of burdening the already stressed students and are trying to provide clarification about visa and travel to its students. "We do not want to add to their (students') stress. As of now the intake, in September, is very much on the table and we are helping with clarifications about visa and travel," said Ashley, Country Head (India) of the B-School. "If the (lockdown) situation persists, the students will have the option to take the course online or attend classes in 2021 academic year. Not just that, they will also have the option of availing a refund of the course fee if they like if the conditions remain the same," he added.
The B-School has branches in six campuses in the Urban Community of Lyon (Écully), Paris, Saint-Etienne, Shanghai, Casablanca and in Bhubaneswar in collaboration with the Xavier University. The classes were shifted online from March 16. While students and teachers across India have been pointing out difficulties they are facing due to poor network or inability to access the online tools, Ashley said that their transition was rather seamless. "We have had the online tools for a long time now and the faculty and the students are used to it. While connectivity issues and technical glitches cannot be entirely avoided, we have digital concierges monitoring the activity to help make the process smooth," said Ashley. "We do not just merely transpose content to the digital platform. The user interface is very important to make the process of online teaching smooth," he added.
Macquarie University in Australia will offer a majority of the courses online to allow students to commence their study and stay engaged till travel restrictions are lifted and students are able to arrive on campus for the semester commencing July 2020, said Abizer Merchant, Director (India and Sri Lanka). "For students who are already on campus, if social distancing measures are lifted in Australia and we are allowed to reopen university campuses, courses will be offered in the standard face to face mode," he added. "The University is experienced in delivering courses online and is aware of the various differences across international locations when it comes to accessibility and available digital infrastructure. Macquarie has been offering its Global MBA online since 2019 via the Coursera platform. We also offer a range of online courses such as Big History. The issues (that may arise) are factored in when developing our online material, however, there has to be a certain level of connectivity that our students will need to organise to get full value when studying online," he added.
Dr Mike Rayner of the University of Portsmouth in England said that even though the last few weeks have been quite unprecedented and an enormous challenge, the staff have responded quickly and effectively in adapting their courses to suit online learning. "In a few weeks, we have gone from being a predominantly campus-based university to a predominantly digital university. For example, in one week alone we have handed out nearly 500 laptops and numerous other pieces of equipment to students who do not have any access to their own," added Dr Rayner.
While he accepted that certain aspects of the course can only be delivered physically, Dr Rayner, who is the Associate Head of Education, School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the varsity, feels that there are a number of positives which can be taken from the remote learning experience. “There has actually been more student interaction. Sometimes in a large lecture hall students can feel quite intimidated about asking questions where it’s much easier to become involved in a discussion via the chat facility. Attendance has also been very good at a time when traditionally students attending lectures tends to decrease as they focus on independent work,” he added. Dr Rayner feels that the positive response to online learning could lead to "a big push" to incorporate an increased element of remote teaching in a post-COVID world.