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Pandemic poses challenge to students abroad

By WANG MINGJIE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-13 07:23

Soldiers test NHS workers for the novel coronavirus on Thursday, in a new testing facility set up at Glasgow Airport. REUTERS

Mixed feedback

Commenting on the trend, Xue Qinbing, a master's student at a London university, who recently returned to China, said: "For lectures, where lecturers are talking most of the time, I prefer video because the function of replay is very helpful as I could pause and take notes; whereas for seminars, I think it is more productive to be in class, because online delivery takes away the element of interaction between the participants, and the ambience is not usually that good."

Steve Spriggs, managing director at the London consultancy William Clarence Education, said: "I think that ultimately there is no real like-for-like replacement for in-person teaching. It's one of the oldest activities in the world-teaching a skill to someone else in person.

"Online is a great tool and has meant the transfer of skills across the globe in real time, but I don't think it's a long-term solution until artificial intelligence and augmented reality get to such a standard where a real person is interchangeable to a digital person delivering the same material," Spriggs said.

While there was no option but to stop in-person lectures for the UK universities, some industry experts said they could still be creative as the UK has a strong tradition of innovation in education.

"The physical constraints that shape what happens in the classroom haven't just got tighter; they've changed," said Kate Rowe, senior partner at consultancy Venture Education in Beijing.

"Ask students to submit reports by video, have them conduct experiments at home, align studies with the context-psychology students should be studying the effects of isolation, and English literature students reading tales from prison-and give both students and teachers the freedom to turn crisis into opportunity," Rowe suggested.

She highlighted the importance of being empathetic and compassionate, especially with international students, saying "UK universities require a considerable amount of independence from their students during normal times, but now is the time to check in with students oneon-one and make sure everyone is safe. Sending out blanket emails is hardly reassuring."

Experts say the schools' shutdown in the UK will also see a drop-off in the recruitment rates of most British universities, especially for those who often bring in students for May intakes.

According to Spriggs: "Open days, interviews, school tours and international student visits are all canceled. And January to May as key recruitment season has not happened. So, come September there may be half empty or totally empty classrooms where schools are dependent on international students.

Lewis Chen, marketing manager at an education adviser United Kingdom Education Centre, said "I think a wise move for many institutions would be to look to create a January intake for 2021.

By making this provision, or building on the existing course portfolio entry for January, universities can balance of the intake so that they are not reliant on one major entry point, but rather spread their intake more evenly through the year," Chen said.

Though COVID-19 has brought upheaval to university life for hundreds of thousands of students in Britain, Christopher Bovis, a professor at the University of Hull in northern England, does not see the disruption as causing long-term damage to the country's tertiary education market.

Bovis said: "The UK has a unique position in global higher education where quality of educational and research play a significant role in its economy … so the standards, the quality and reputation of the higher education system will not be affected by the current pandemic.

"China is a major market for higher education institutions. COVID-19 is a temporary obstacle to a global market," Bovis said.

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