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‘With Corona’ brings opportunities and challenges to universities

‘With Corona’ brings opportunities and challenges to universities

Posted July. 17, 2020 07:43,   

Updated July. 17, 2020 07:43


"It has been a hectic months on the campus,” the president of a private university in the Seoul metropolitan area said while looking back at the first semester of the year when the COVID-19 pandemic swept college campuses across the nation. Shaking his head in exhaustion, he wore a feeble smile, a testament to the significant level of chaos that universities have suffered throughout the first semester.

One of the trickiest parts of keeping the campus free of COVID-19 was to keep track of international students. Schools found it difficult to make sure that foreign students come back according to their school schedules. Once they entered the country, however, it was even harder to monitor each of them. Faculty and staff would deliver lunch boxes and chicken snacks to foreign students who stayed in lockdown at dorms or studios. Another private university president visited international students and gave out fruit to them. Staffers for student affairs, admissions and international affairs argued over who should be in charge of the situation. Online lectures got off to a bad start. Finding it hard to record lectures, some professors recycled lessons and materials that they shared several years ago, let alone providing real-time lectures. Too many students were caught cheating on tests that were administered online.

All of this may tell us that it has been a complete failure throughout the semester. However, it may not be true given the results of a survey of 1,050 university students that a job recruitment website conducted on how satisfied they were with online lectures during the first semester of the year. Overall, 44 percent of the respondents answered that they were satisfied with online lectures whereas 31 percent said otherwise. Also, as many as 70 percent of professors showed high levels of satisfaction with online lecturing although there was a difference in their answers between universities. It turned out that most of the schools with high levels of satisfaction had quality online lecturing systems in place with their ears open to students. A private university in Seoul had its large-scale lecture rooms equipped with video recording systems during the second semester of last year. With it, lectures are automatically recorded to transform into online content. Nursing professors at a university in the Seoul metropolitan area would arrive at school early in the morning to make sure that their students wear personal protective equipment during clinical practices. Students found online lectures all the more helpful when their professors provided them with such quality practical classes.

Things will likely be the same for the next semester. Even though a COVID-19 vaccine is invented as optimists may hope, it will take an extra year to make sure that it is safe clinically. In this sense, the next semester will determine how successfully each school adapts to a series of changes. Universities can enhance their competitiveness if they optimize themselves for the "With Corona” era. What if they refused to keep up with the shift? They are likely to fall behind. "We had no choice but to let it just pass with our hands tied because we all knew that we had no time to react properly,” said a president of a private university in Seoul. However, things are different for the next semester. Students will get mad at schools if they are not fully prepared yet.”

Some schools are nimbly preparing for the next semester. Social distancing on the campus will be fully observed as schools plan to provide various types of online and offline lectures to students. Another step forward is to make plans for freshmen students who will start their campus life in the post-Corona era. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the academic gap between students although it is no news that K-12 students’ academic performance levels are deteriorating over time. Universities should come up with how to improve their declining academic levels as, in the end, it is universities that should embrace and nurture the students. No one knows what will happen during the second half of the year and beyond. That is why universities should get themselves prepared for what comes next. Only well-prepared universities can grab new opportunities in the "With Corona” era.

Sung-Ho Lee starsky@donga.com