It has been just about five months since 11 March 2020 when the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. In many quarters this marks the historical divide as in Before Corona (BC) & After Corona (AC) . Across the globe educational systems at all levels have been seriously impacted even in this short span of time. This Pandemic has created a new normal for the higher & technical education domain, revolutionizing the online learning landscape, reshaping application processes, and refreshing crisis management strategies along with ensuring social well-being of the stakeholders.
UCLC had organized East-Africa Higher Education Virtual Summit 2020 on August 18,2020 where Leaders from across East Africa higher education ecosystem gathered online to evaluate the true scale of disruption to the sector and delve upon the impact of COVID19 to discuss on strategies to overcome the challenges accrued due to this crisis. The eminent panelists shared their valuable views during this online summit.
Addressing to the Unforeseen Challenge
Prof Kindeya Gebrihiwot, Honorable President of Mekelle University, one of the largest public universities in Ethiopia said that The higher education is facing different challenges. We are soldering and accommodating the quarantine citizens, hospitalization and continuous treatment of Covid-19 patients are going on and establishment and planning of Covid-19 centres are a major responsibility."Talking about Collaborative Aspects, he said as University we give utmost importance on Internationalisation. Today Mekelle University has more than 3000 international students. We aspire to be one of 25 top universities in Africa that are possible only if we collaborate with other universities both in Ethiopia and abroad.
"We need to Emerge, collaborate & share experiences. As a University, we would like to perceive this as our opportunity"
Prof Philip Cotton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rwanda highlighted the need for maintaining student welfare. He added, "One of the principles of University of Rwanda is of a smooth transition from one academic year to another. However, in this crisis, we have to manage smooth transitions from one situation one week to another situation to another week. So many ways transform ourselves in terms of thinking and our mindset but the main message of the University of Rwanda is student welfare is totally paramount. Upon highlighting the role of technology Dr. Philip added Apart from virtual labs, after COVID we are looking for virtual internships to work with young entrepreneur and ready to be piloting with some really good effects and outcomes. He also added Blended learning and teaching is the future of Higher Education. Now is the time when we need to re-envision the future in a new way.
Best Practices & Role of Technology & Innovation
Dr Mahendra Sharma, Pro-Chancellor Ganpat University, a well-reputed State Private University in India said that we adopted 5V approach. We focused on the virtual classroom, Virtual faculties, Virtual Labs, Virtual administration & Virtual Ecosystem.
Dr Sharma also addressed on two kinds of collaboration, Institutional Collaboration & transfer of Credit Program and talked about Dual Awards, looking at opportunities to have global access to quality faculties, opportunity to develop MOOCs jointly and opportunities to fill in the gap. Dr Sharma added From the Indian perspective, this Pandemic is one pill for all ills, when a crisis of such level happens, it is a question of choices & direction. Higher Education will be now taken to the next level of digital learning. The future is about blended learning facilitated by collaboration. In the end, he said,
"The concept of the University inside industry & Industry inside University would become a reality sooner than later. "
Prof Isaac Odeo, Vice-Chancellor of Kibabii University, Kenya said,” I am not just thinking out of the box but thinking without the restrictions of the box. One of the issue we have to tackle the minimize the impact of sudden change. Our immediate concern was the safety of staff and students and particularly and those who are vulnerable. For the community around us, we quickly commissioned the Department of Chemistry to start producing sanitizers, soaps and send to Kenya Bureau of Standards for Certification .He further added,
"Now is the time of Paradigm shift, we must change & adopt new ways of doing things, we must make more use of blended learning."
Assoc Prof Krishnan Sharma, Vice-Chancellor Victoria University one of the reputed private University located in the hearts of Kampala said during the lockdown, to see the readiness of our students, internet coverage area, affordability we conducted a survey and then grouped all the students into 4 groups, and accordingly pivoted our strategies to help each group.
Addressing the future of Higher Education he said,” Indeed it is an opportunity. We are focussing on effective implementation of E-learning models so the government, regulatory bodies, institutions all work together to catalyse the process.
On Collaboration & Internationalisation
Dr Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, Vice-Chancellor of Kampala International University, Uganda said,” We tried to manage the situation by upgrade our learning management system for the students, we made it more accessible with fewer restrictions, we were surprised for Courses which had a very low percentage of uptake and over a couple of weeks there was a significant increase in percentage uptake in our two campuses." Talking on how other organization’s strengths add to your university’s strength Dr Mouhamad said,"
We will be exploring many ways of collaboration to strengthen infrastructure, facility, partners, to have the continuity. This new paradigm shift calls for real frugal methods.
Prof. K M Mathew, Vice-Chancellor of ISBAT University, said,” At ISBAT University a Heterogeneous Virtual Learning Platform was developed with highly competent technical support, to serve the student community 24/7. Students can access the system from anywhere in the world as per their convenience by using their Mobile or Laptop. Assignments are provided to the students and they can upload the Answers from anywhere within a stipulated time. All Lecturer notes and Videos are modified periodically by the expert faculties to incorporate the latest advancement in the industry and technological trends. Students are encouraged to participate in Virtual Seminars, Conferences and Webinars to showcase their talents and innovative ideas.
Dr James Nampushi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Maasai Mara University, well-reputed Public University in Kenya said,” We need to think out of the box for teaching, so we developed a virtual platform and to review our curriculum program. We partnered with one of the largest network providers in Kenya to provide our students with internet services. We created educational awareness Sessions, partnered with government and they are funded us to produce handwashing soaps and sanitizers. Maasai Mara University partnered to Kenya Red cross to donate foods and also to reach out to local communities.
'Collaboration' is the one-word as the key takeaway from this summit. All the university leaders reflected on the competitive advantages that higher education institutions can achieve by way of strategic collaborations with other organisations and institutions.
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