The COVID-19 crisis is having and will have a big impact in all of us, the virus that does not understand of borders, wealth or races is pushing us to a different kind of future, a new normality. In words of Fr General, “this crisis will have a huge impact on how we relate to each other; on how we work; on how the world economy is run; on how we pray together; on how we carry out mission in the Society of Jesus and in the Church”
This crisis has had a big impact in the higher education ministry, challenging universities globally to adapt fast to the new situation in all of its dimensions. Universities are responding to health-care crises, campus closings, cancellations of events and other issues that continue to arise and evolve on a daily basis. As the crisis evolves differently in the very diverse parts of the world where Jesuit institutions are universities start to plan on how to continue their activity looking to the future.
In the middle of this uncertainty, Jesuit universities, following their solidary charism, have had a very inspiring reaction and have mobilized to face the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak in the world with diverse and creative initiatives, making a difference for the members of their communities. Among other initiatives, institutions are donating medical supplies to local hospitals, offering psychological and spiritual accompaniment, studying possible therapies for coronavirus, giving shelter to vulnerable families and migrants, etc.
Within this context and in an effort of Fr General to monitor the situation of Jesuit ministries worldwide, the International Association of Jesuit Universities in collaboration with the six regional associations have elaborate a report of the situation of higher education institutions. The report addresses the issue from three different angles;
- the impact that COVID-19 is having in our higher ed. institutions;
- the contingencies that institutions are planning for the reopening of the academic program;
- and the support/assistance that would be likely to come from the governments and the Society of Jesus.
Impact that COVID-19 is having in our higher education institutions
From the report we can see that impact is global and very substantial, COVID has disrupted and challenges our universities in many new ways.
- Economic impact: Institutions are facing an important reduction of the enrolment for the next academic year; this is especially notable for the institutions that have a large international population. Moreover, institutions are facing a deferred payment of the tuition fees. Some universities, with a strong model of on campus housing are also facing reimbursements for students that were not able to finish their semester on campus.
- Education/pedagogical impact: Universities have had to transition very fast to online learning, accumulating fatigue in its faculty, staff and students. Most of them have done it successfully, but how does this affect our pedagogical model?
- Research impact: Until now the general impacts on research activities have not been significant, the lines and “scientific productions” seem to be maintained. However, this situation might change in the medium term if the financing of the projects is reduced.
The report reflects how Jesuit institutions are being tremendously adaptative to the different identified issues.
Contingencies that institutions are planning for the reopening of the academic program
It seems there will not be a vaccine or effective treatment by the normal time for the school opening, therefore, universities are planning contingencies to adapt to the new situation in the reopening of their programs.
- Laws and instructions issued by governments: many of these contingencies are imposed by the local and national governments, therefore flexibility is very limited for many of our institutions.
- Sanitary actions: disinfections of campus and adaptation of classroom settings are some of the common measures that our universities will take for the reopening of campuses.
- Use of blended learning models: some universities are considering stablishing blended teaching models for this academic year. This will make easier the respect of physical distancing and will protect teachers and students.
- School year: many institutions are considering changing their school calendar/year so that it adapts better to possible new outbreaks of the virus.
Support/assistance that would be likely to come from the Society and governments
The situation has left many institutions asking for help. Depending on the country or region governments are more or less generous with its grants. Anyhow, we see in the report that the private nature of our institutions leaves little hope to receive much public support.
The large size of many of our institutions makes it very difficult for the Society to offer more than a symbolic help.