Friday, March 6, 2020

Academic supremacy in China

Publish or perish is a phrase repeated throughout many higher education institutions and captures the priority placed on research, creation of new knowledge, and getting it published. The idea of influencing the emergence of thought is laudable and has shaped many campus cultures, especially those at the highest and most elite levels.

China has long sought to capture a seat at the table of elite higher education and it has done it through pushing academic citations. However, new policies from the Chinese Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science and Technology discourage academics from relying on citations as a primary means of evaluating individuals and departments. Chinese universities have also begun to discontinue the practice of requiring graduate students to publish papers in order to receive their Ph.D.s., starting with some of the most elite institutions.

Shen Wenqin, an associate professor at Peking University proposed that the shift in policy may be partially attributed to dissatisfaction with the current research system by the public, saying "The government has invested huge amounts of money on scientific research, but universities and research institutions have not performed very well in solving practical social problems."

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Higher education and Coronavirus

The U.S.A. higher education response to Coronavirus started with the Center for Disease Control recommending that colleges and universities consider canceling foreign exchange programs in early March 2020. The statement was broad and encouraged discretion at the institutional level and did not indicate a time frame for the advice. This approached resulted in statements such as that by Ravi Shankar, president of NAFSA, when he commented that the CDC advice applied only to international students in the U.S.A., rather than U.S. students studying abroad. The ultimate economic damage of  multiple aspects of internationalization was estimated at 4.5 Billion dollars in the U.S.A. and was accompanied by elimination of 600 jobs at the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) due to the anticipated decline in the need for its services. Once the harsh reality set in, campuses and international educators saw that study abroad would have to be forsaken or alternatives found, including virtual exchanges and other education abroad alternatives.

Campuses responded by setting up emergency management teams, benchmarking with each other, using strategic thinking and scenario planning, devising communications plans, and exploring how to use social media to respond to the continuing spread of the virus. The level of priority given to each and the target dates for key decisions was influenced by the degree of inclusive decision making practices and the value placed on an outside or "balcony" perspective to help in making difficult judgments. Some faculty responded by offering their content expertise, exploring the sociological impact and other research questions relevant for both the immediate and long-term. Integrating faculty expertise and engaging with them during the Coronavirus pandemic became part of the "coming together" that would hopefully avoid the divisiveness that sometimes emerges when tough decisions are made.

One of the ripples of Coronavirus has been a wave of collaboration and sharing, something that is somewhat unusual in the competitive higher education world. As colleges and universities strove to respond, a distinction between elite and more broadly public-serving institutions emerged. Elite institutions monitored the return of faculty and students from international travel (characteristic of more privileged populations), an issue that became increasingly important as students were stranded in their study abroad countries. Those institutions resourced to shift to on-line learning did so but less resourced institutions struggled to respond. On the positive side, community colleges, which are often under-resourced in comparison to elite universities, hoped for some benefit from the unfolding recession and the resulting decline in job opportunity. Community colleges could also benefit from the long-term workforce changes that COVID-19 shock left in its path. Small colleges, some of which pivoted to modified educational practices, hoped to survive by being more nimble in their decision making.

The University of Washington was at the epicenter of Coronavirus in the U.S.A. from the beginning and preliminary reports from faculty indicated that the quick transition to on-line was handled as well as could be expected. Its example was instructive but much was left to be worked out at the individual campus level. In addition to advice from the University of Washington, the President of Singapore Management University offered advice based on looking back at the SARS outbreak of 2003 in Singapore. Institutional leaders are key in navigating such tumultuous times and the response of governing boards, presidents, provosts, and others is pivotal. A survey of 172 university presidents revealed an array of concerns; at the top of the list was the mental health of employees and students, which was followed by budget and student engagement/retention concerns. Institutional leaders will be identifying signals of fiscal stress which may be more difficult to determine than is optimal. Plugging budget gaps in appeals to alumni and friends was an option for some colleges and universities but fund raisers warned that the approach must be tailored to a very different environment.

Some higher education professional/academic associations cancelled or moved their conferences to on-line. The American Council on Education, an organization for Presidents that cancelled their annual conference, likely modeled that other groups should cancel as well. The cancellations of the NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) and the 5th Transatlantic Dialogue in Luxembourg were examples in and outside of the U.S.A.

The hodgepodge of institutional closures was based on different rational but created confusion. Decisions such as the Cal State system remaining virtual through Fall of 2020 reflected its specific circumstances, including heavy percentage of commuting students, stable enrollment, and robust on-line course offerings. Most community colleges are trending toward staying virtual. Conference cancellations and suspended or no-spectator sports competition became the new norm, changes that could result in redirecting the usage of major facilities such as sports, entertainment, and arts spaces. Concerns about the impact of the new norm of social distancing were seen in the NCAA tournament cancellation and reduction of the number of sports programs on campuses. Cancellations of sports was only one aspect of the rich face-to-face contact in and out of class that accompanied the Coronavirus pandemic. For those students and their families who looked forward to celebrating their graduation, the loss of this passage was heart-breaking but some institutions moved to virtual commencements to make the best of it.

So many campuses cancelled classes or moved to on-line instruction that spreadsheets were compiled to keep track of the trends. While on-line learning or no learning at all appeared to be the only alternatives, forced migration to different ways of learning led to disillusionment or innovation depending on how the campus handled the changes. Summaries related to U.S. federal guidelines and actions taken by colleges and universities to cope with the impact of Coronavirus are periodically updated with the latest from Inside Higher Education:
  • March 13-15
  • March 16 - cancellation of SAT/ACT and beginning of commencement cancellations 
  • March 17 - economic impact and more commencement cancellations
  • March 20-23 - expanding emergency health facilities on campus and protecting graduate and contract workers
  • March 24
  • March 25 - budget and hiring freezes emerge
  • March 26 - stimulus package and refunds
  • March 27 - U.S. government stimulus and hiring freezes/cuts
  • March 30 - Arizona class action lawsuit for refunds
  • March 31 - how will higher education benefit from 2T federal package?
  • April 1 - funding options and budget shortfalls
  • April 2 - U.S.A. Dept of Education issues distance education rules
  • April 3 - seeking funding through COVID-19 stimulus
  • April 6 - virtual recruitment and Zoombombing
  • April 7 - university presidents and athletic staff take pay cuts
  • April 8 - declining enrollment and budget cuts
  • April 9 - nightmares and emergency student support
  • April 10 - COVID-19 and employment
  • April 12-18 - sequenced summary
  • April 19-25 - sequenced summary
  • April 27 - some areas begin to reopen
  • April 28 - cellphone data reveals growing mobility
  • April 29 - is COVID-19 resurgence possible?
  • April 30 - reopen announcements begin
  • May 1 - global ratings cuts for many colleges
  • May 4-10 - sequenced summary
  • May 10 - 17 - sequenced summary
  • May 18 - confusion one CARE distribution to students
  • May 19 - vets undeserved in CARE aid
  • May 20 - decisions on virtual vs. campus instruction
  • May 21 - ASU summer enrollment sets record
  • May 22 - COVID-19 testing on campus
  • May 26 - Education Dept. guidance
  • May 27 - FAFSA applications down, especially among most in need of aid
  • May 28 - expanding National Science Foundation
  • May 29 - National Governors seek advice
  • June 1 - NCAA COVID-19 recommendations
  • June 2 - Inside Higher Education ceases intensive focus
Subsequent updates are posted here.

Teaching and learning fundamentally changed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic as more on-line or blended learning was implemented to reach students and reduce budgets. Temporary changes included institutions moving to Pass/Fail grading. Ed Tech vendors, partners when helpful and predators when they take advantage of institutions, offered assistance on moving learning content on-line, raising concern about access to the technology (especially for students with disabilities) that replaced face-to-face instruction. Faculty who had Chinese students who were back in China after interrupted study abroad needed to consider if use of some on-line resources were restricted or monitored. Another problem for Chinese students is that backlash to Australia's inquiry into China's handling of COVID-19 may result in boycotts of the Australian higher education sector. Student affairs and academic support staff, whose contributions are in out-of-class settings, sought to interpret patterns of student engagement, targeting those who were less involved, and fostering students' interaction with each other. Unfortunately, campuses had to determine how to respond to students' violation of social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention policies.

Other teaching resources for a no classroom environment were proposed and Inside Higher Education offered a reader questions board to assist managers/leaders with decisions about handling the Coronavirus. The President of one of the leaders in on-line delivery of courses in the U.S.A., Southern New Hampshire University, offered tips on how to be most effective in on-line delivery and spoke in a podcast about the reboot of SNHU's campus-based programs. Joining the U.S.A. trend, Australia also shifted much of higher education instruction to on-line. Contingency planning and faculty reflections on the impact of shifting to remote learning helped to inform the process of change.

Determining what approach to use and the timing of a return to face-to-face instruction was both a pedagogical and budgetary consideration, with the potential of a late Fall start, an early Fall start (with completion before Thanksgiving), waiting until Spring 2021 a possibility, and pursuing a number of other learning innovationsUnequal access to higher education, including neglect of DACA students, has been problematic and could be further exacerbated by temporary or continued reliance on on-line methods. Prospective and current students, especially those with financial or other needs, began to change their educational plans, a concern for budgetary and impact reasons. As individual institutions considered their options, coordination across different types of institutions appeared not to occur, with approaches such as a "Visiting Year" at a community college a possibility that could collectively benefit all students and institutions. Warnings against rushing back to in-person instruction in Fall of 2020 included concerns related to the ability to test for COVID-19 and infrastructures to fever checks and campus quarantine facilities, concerns echoed in Lamar Alexander's recommendations as Chair of the U.S. Senate's health and education committee.

Spring and early summer are prime recruitment and yield time on most campuses; with most institutions concentrating on the welfare of current students, concerns related to the future enrollment picture for all students and international students loomed in the background, with mixed expectations reported among different types of institutions. With such great uncertainty, on-line presence increased, standardized tests became optional, yield rates softened, acceptance dates were pushed back, predictions of enrollment decline increased, and the reality of students deferring their dreams emerged. By June 2020, the predictions on enrollment decline eased but concerns persisted. Research on student perceptions indicated mixed reviews of the move to on-line learning (including 33% of high school grads who will defer or reject admission if it's on-line learning) and questions about returning to regular instruction in the fall of 2020. The prospect of students deferring enrollment looms more ominous for less privileged students who are less likely to have positive alternatives to higher education study.

In relation to specific subsets of students, the impact on Chinese students studying in the U.S.A. was potentially very significant, including for those who stayed in the U.S.A. while the virus spread. In the early stages of the pandemic a survey of 234 U.S.A. institutions by the Institute for International Education indicated that 76% reported that outreach and recruitment had been affected by the spread of the Coronavirus and 20% of those institutions had made no plans to change strategy since the health concern emerged. By late May, 88% of surveyed institutions expected a decline in new international enrollment, a prospect only slightly buoyed by the 92% of international students who stayed in the U.S.A. when the COVID-19 lockdown hit. As the Trump administration considered restricting work opportunity (OPT) for international students after graduation, retention of current and the prospect of securing a rebound in new international enrollment appeared unlikely.

While all students are impacted by policy and program changes related to COVID-19, certain types of students may be more vulnerable than others. Neurodivergent students face unique challenges. Specific to Europe, students who were in another country as part of Erasmus exchange are struggling to return to their homes. Student sub-groups in the U.S.A. such as first generation and those of low socio-economic status have concerns specific to their backgrounds while international students around the world have have others. U.S.A. domestic minority students' have unique concerns that may require a national coalition to retain them; access to technology and where they reside when campuses close warrant specific attention. For students who are parents and are now trying to manage on-line learning for themselves and their children, a significant part of the challenge is finding resources that provide help. The financial impact on all students can be significant; students who signaled that they were likely to expect at least partial refunds turned to suing for their refunds in other cases. Expectation of refunds was particularly focused on services they will not receive, such as residence halls and dining services. The prospect of student expectation for refunds then impacts non-salaried staff who serve in custodial, dining, and other services roles where institutions may seek to cut expenses.

Caring for students is important in these difficult times. Part of this involves encouraging students to actively manage their personal and educational lives can reduce the sense of having lost control over their futures, especially those facing poor employment prospects after graduating and entering a collapsed job market.  Looking at internship alternatives or delayed employment became part of students' and graduates' reality but some predicted that the post-COVID-19 pandemic could provide new opportunities for recent graduates who will bring new ideas and skills into a changing work environment. Mental health support is essential in this time of rapid change, especially for those who faced xenophobic persecution and were targets of hate groups; partnership with students and incorporation of time to reflect on the impact of COVID-10 in instruction can help. Faculty can help to restore hope in students' thinking by communicating in ways that recognize the urgency they feel even if it is difficult while adjusting to primarily on-line. In an environment where role strain is likely, faculty need to be supported by their institutions and expectations of productivity should be modified; graduate students have a unique set of concerns as well. Students organized efforts to help each other. Student advising became more important than ever, by necessity a shift to virtual formats for prospective and continuing students. As some institutions moved to on-line instruction for the summer of 2020, concerns were also raised about the impact of COVID-19 extending beyond the current crisis.

As investors around the world shuddered at the economic impact of COVID-19, it became clear that the impact to higher education is sizable and long term, justifying continued attention to higher education as a critical resource for individuals, industries, and governments. Forcasting the changes that lie ahead will need to include sweeping innovations that integrate education into the fabric of recovery in urban centers where many of the best educational and cultural organizations are located. Proposals will be imperfect as they emerge, but considerations related to market disruption and financial dislocation must begin now if "college" is to be saved for a broad number of students. One of the first of the impacts will likely be a recalibration of how on-line interaction/instruction are factored into the larger comprehensive higher education picture; consideration here must include families' willingness to pay for on-line learning. The second will be adjusting budgets, sometimes at unprecedented levels. While some institutions planned to avoid cutting staff, others anticipated temporary (and perhaps long-term) furloughs or cuts to searches for new hires (even presidents), based on gradual past decline in state support, lost revenue during the pandemic crisisstate budget cuts, and questions about possible federal help. Those institutions facing closure or relocation/consolidation must be honest with students and families. The third impact is one that could be very positive - increased networked relationships to help colleges during and after the pandemic.