The coronavirus pandemic’s devastation across the world has been phenomenal since its outbreak in December 2019 in China. The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt in all spheres of the economy and global operations.
Tertiary education has also seen significant interruptions.
By April 2020, universities and other tertiary education institutions across 175 countries were closed affecting some 220 million learners globally.
The pandemic, besides getting students off-campus, has caused universities to suffer significant revenue losses in form of tuition, accommodation, conferences, and other event related activities.
Based on the events unfolding that resulted in a disruption of the academic calendar, created the possibilities of deferring academic programmes, where most universities in Africa and other tertiary education institutions have, in the space of weeks and months, since the outbreak, moved their operations online albeit at different levels and scale.
Certainly, the odds have been real, economic fallout from the virus has already affected staff remuneration with some universities suspending staff contracts; affecting positions of casual, adjunct and temporary workers.
Private led universities and higher education institutions have been most affected as they are largely dependent on tuition as the main revenue streams.
Within this melee, universities and other learning institutions have had to rapidly adjust while students and parents have equally had to redefine the ‘classroom’ and responsibilities in the ‘new learning space’ besides either finding new jobs or maintaining the existing ones.
In the last couple of months, universities have started providing academic staff with crash training in online teaching. This rush begs the question, universities are centres of innovation, what have they been up to since the advancement of internet and competitiveness of the fourth industrial revolution?
Many innovations in response to Covid-19 are strongly needed from all spheres including in higher education to overcome the current and projected constraints that the ‘new normal’ is converging on humanity.
Considering that tertiary education is an important aspiration for many young people and a critical instrument for employment in the global economy, current disruptions imposed by Covid-19 call for re-imagining of the state of higher education to recast the future to, in particular be resilient of future disruptions.
This is because the current Covid-19 pandemic and other potential epidemics and pandemics to come will create societies with disengaged and deprived youth and graduates.
Changing the status quo requires that resources, intensified surveillance, and capacity building are urgently prioritised in the continent to in particular, respond to continental bottlenecks as well support countries that are ill-prepared to detect and contain disease outbreaks.
Universities must now, more than ever leverage on their strengths to foster more collaboration in research to strengthen their role in preparedness, response and monitoring of emerging and re-emerging pandemics. They must also adapt new technologies as a way of doing business, because if they do not, pandemics like Covid-19 will force them to.
Ms Maureen Agena is the Advocacy and Communications Specialist