What universities can learn about citizenship in the COVID-19 pandemic

universities covid

(Vadim Sherbakov, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Samuel Martin-Barbero, Presidential Distinguished Fellow, University of Miami


  • Mere job-related skills will mean very little from now on if they are not rooted in applicable social beliefs and personal strengths.
  • The current “university campuses lockout” will probably alter students’ expectations and choices of study and work.
  • Physicians, nurses and all key workers are displaying unimaginable levels of courage, solidarity, generosity, camaraderie, tenacity and resilience,

Higher education around the world has been shaken to its core by the coronavirus pandemic. But this pandemic, and our responses to it, have much to teach us. Educational leaders, scholars and policy makers should not only take advantage of this unprecedented moment in university history to fund, invest and get trained in the friendly use of instructional delivery platforms, applications and assessment tools. In addition, we must focus on the lessons to be extracted from the citizenship on display by many individuals and volunteers, in cities such as New York, Madrid or London. Hopefully, COVID-19 will provide higher education with a golden opportunity for a deeper dive into social purpose, meaning and commitment with the outside world.

 

So many physicians, nurses, psychologists, military, police officers, fire brigades and cashiers, among others, are acting as beacons of insight, inspiring admiration and profound life lessons in the rest of us.

These committed individuals have become the frontline of a battle, the end of which is still uncertain; when they stayed in person in those emergency rooms, street tents, nursing homes and improvised morgues. It is no exaggeration to state that, in these times of (apparent) peace in the Western hemisphere, those who save the lives of others while risking their own lives really do become the “saviours of humankind”, to paraphrase the Talmud. They are displaying unimaginable levels of courage, solidarity, generosity, camaraderie, tenacity and even resilience, an attribute hailed by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, when launching his country’s national recovery operation.

The last few weeks have seen an increase in publications covering ways in which the higher education system is financially facing the forceful reality of having to temporarily transfer teaching to the virtual sphere due to COVID-19.

US higher education institutions could face budget shortfalls as income falls and students switch schools.
Universities have been shaken by the pandemic.

As for, the millions of young adults enrolled as university students in the US, UK, Spain, France and Italy, they are not just becoming “online students”; they are suffering a jarring shock in the form of an extra-curricular traumatic experience. Some socio-economic implications on how this situation is affecting vulnerable segments of the university population were recently described by the New York Times and The Atlantic.

It is not only students but also university professors from all kind of institutions, understandably stressed about this pandemic, who are confined at home right now. And the latter are often juggling caring for relatives and homeschooling with their regular profession. Teaching, researching and administrating is difficult to balance in normal conditions, but now much more so.

In recent times, universities across the globe are increasingly focused on transferable knowledge, high quality teaching, and equipping students with the cognitive skills and rational thinking needed to guarantee employability. Wanting to catch up with the times, many institutions have started adding extracurricular activities to provide graduate students with a “survival kit” of sorts, in order to stay in tune with market demands.

Mere job-related skills will mean very little from now on if they are not rooted in applicable social beliefs and strengths, which can make a difference in turbulent times such as this one. Universities would be better disposed to anticipate the future by listening carefully to the current citizenship’s “living masterclasses”.

The current “university campuses lockout” will probably alter students’ expectations and choices of academic programmes, career paths and even geographical locations of study and work. In a country such as Spain, with the fourth largest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world so far (over 25,000) this may well be the case already.

In the last month the increase of interest in short, non-credit, online courses, certificates and associate degrees has grown exponentially, according to Google Trends data. The chosen areas by users in this search engine are Health, Education, Social Services and Environmental Studies. It would be interesting to analyze whether these temporary choices and sensitivities will prevail and spread internationally, after the lockdown comes to an end.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

In the meantime, those of us luckily working remotely must try to remain positive, constructive and motivated, remembering once in a while the lyrics of a former Spanish pop hit, Resistiré by Dúo Dinámico. In fact, many Madrilenians sang this song from their balconies every evening at 8pm, while applauding those in the urban battlefield. It is the anthem of “civic hope” after almost two months of strict confinement, as well as a hymn of gratitude to those applying citizenship on a daily basis. “And while the winds of life may rage, like a bending reed I will stay on my feet. I will survive… And even if all my dreams are shattered, I will survive.”

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