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Saudi University Analyses Covid-19 Impact on Higher Education

Covid-19 has ended the age of face-to-face education as the only way to teach, according to research by King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.

That is one of the conclusions of a book, titled “The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Education, Health and Economy Sectors”, issued by the university’s Center for Scientific Publishing.

The book’s first 14 chapters provide an in-depth analysis of the pandemic’s impact on three main sectors. Chapter 15 contains a summary of conclusions and recommendations.

The authors argue that the age of face-to-face education, as the only way to teach students, has gone and that online teaching and learning will continue. They call for trainers to establish a sound cyber infrastructure, well protected against cybercrime.

Recovery Strategies

The book arrives two years after the World Health Organization announced, in March 2020, the global outbreak of the pandemic.

One of the contributors, William Gerard Tierney, writes that higher education as a global system has never experienced anything similar to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic will force institutions to rethink their mission and decide whether they should maintain the status quo or change somehow, says William G. Tierney, a scholar of higher education who contributed to the book.

In a chapter titled “The Pandemic Repercussions: Strategies for Higher Education Recovery and Reform”, he says the effect of the pandemic was greater than that of wars, disease, or financial crises.

Tierney, who is the founding director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of South California, explores recovery strategies in four areas: assessment, education, technology, and financing.

While he rules out an immediate solution to the problems caused by the pandemic, he presents an optimistic view of higher education, provided that universities take bold steps to reform.

Tierney, who is also a former president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), says that when campuses return to full capacity, institutions should analyse what students learned during the pandemic when classes were primarily online.

It would be wrong to assume that the transition from in-person to online classrooms was seamless, he says. Several unofficial reports suggest that simply passing the subject was seen as an achievement for some students.

Students who have just graduated from high school, or have moved from one institution to another, may have had the most turbulent learning experiences, he wrote, due to their lack of experience using online technologies.

Financial Health Assessment

Tierney says the purpose of a financial assessment is not to determine if an institution has lost revenue during the pandemic. Almost all institutions have witnessed shortfalls in tuition fees, government subsidies, or ancillary services. Financial crises enable organisations to determine whether their activities match the institutional priorities, he says.

He adds that universities are not exempt from thinking too broadly having over-ambitious goals. “What is dangerous in this is that the institution is spread too widely across multiple areas,” he says. “As a result, the institution will not be very good at doing anything, and what may be required is downsizing and focus of the institution.”

Book cover: “The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Education, Health and Economy Sectors”
Book cover: “The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Education, Health and Economy Sectors”

Tierney believes that the pandemic will force institutions to rethink their mission and decide whether they should maintain the status quo or change somehow.

Analysing the consequences of working from home, he argues that if productivity and employee satisfaction both remain high, it will be necessary to reshape the campus. “It will be futile, and financially ridiculous, to leave the vast campuses empty, where the cost of electricity, air conditioning, heating, maintenance, and the like is wasted,” he says.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The book concludes with a list of recommendations that emphasise the need to learn from the pandemic. It notes the ability of faculty members and students to adapt, and argues against reverting to old teaching and learning practices. Recommendations include working towards utilising the full potential of online learning while maintaining the core, institutional strengths of a campus-based experience.

Other recommendations are to: review the curricula; ensure that students are taught what they need in the future; invest in international cooperation in research of global issues; and future planning.

The authors advocate expanding research into areas like the social aspects of the disease, addressing the social determinants of health and mental health during the pandemic, as well as the effects of misinformation.

The contributors also recommend the establishment of a regenerative economy that emphasises applied research that benefits the world, education that instills a moral compass, and promotes awareness of sustainability across curricula.

The authors advocate expanding research into areas like the social aspects of the disease, addressing the social determinants of health and mental health during the pandemic, as well as the effects of misinformation. They argue for interdisciplinary research that brings together scholars from the sciences and humanities to address big problems, such as bio-innovation and bio-industrialisation.

They also call for investment in international research cooperation to address global issues such as energy, sustainability, health care, health technology, and health sciences. They recommend increasing the focus on the value of quality learning, research, and economic opportunity, by strengthening relationships with business stakeholders and government partners.

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These efforts, the authors say, should include an in-depth analysis of how to evolve the traditional learning model into an environment suitable for blended learning, distance learning, with a special focus on IT innovation.

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By: Ismail Alashwal

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