Category: Crisis management

This too shall pass – reflections on international education crises

“At some point during each crisis, we worry about the long-term impact on international education”

I remember the feeling, writes Kerry Geffert, product evangelist for Terra Dotta. Restless, hard to focus, antsy, anxious, neither depressed nor positive. It was right after 9/11. Our world had turned upside down and, when we got past the immediate personal implications, those of us in international education wondered what the future held for the work that was near and dear to our hearts.

At that time I was also Conference Chair for the 2002 NAFSA Annual Conference. When we held our first meeting of the planning committee following 9/11, I started by admitting that I had had trouble focusing on our tasks. There was an immediate collective sigh of relief. Turns out I was not alone.

Two lessons from that experience: We are not alone in our feelings of uncertainty. And our professional/industry peers and colleagues are an important part of self-care and mutual support.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread, international educators are in month three of the crisis. First, dealing with the impacts in China, then fear and impacts as the virus spread abroad and now, here at home.

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Standing #ApartTogether in times of crisis

“Keeping our communities safe, and focused on moving forward with hope and creativity, is our path through and out of our collective current reality”

It is vitally important to refocus on the importance of community and leadership, writes Tina Bax, Founder of CultureWorks in Canada.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has tweeted her hope that we might stand #ApartTogether in this.  There’s arguably never been a more important time to be together.  To expand the concept of community that we continually build in our classrooms, to the rest of the world.

In the spirit of humility and service then, here are three communities to consider when we’re trying to take such great care in the coming weeks and months, not just of ourselves but of our world.

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Supporting international students in HE during COVID-19

“As we enter a new normal, we must ensure that no student is left behind”

Covid-19 has thrust the Higher Education sector into the realities of ‘Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity’ (VUCA)  writes senior international lead at the University of Sussex, Tosin Adebisi. As a result, many universities are responding quickly, creatively and moving in-person teaching to online platforms.

I commend universities for developing robust solutions; however, as we develop these learning platforms, how are we supporting international students, especially those unable to fly back to their homes and families? How well are we creating a level learning field that promotes accessibility, participation and inclusion?

In this opinion piece, I argue that we can do more to support international students. I also present suggestions to help universities develop human-centred solutions for this group.

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Coronavirus: separated families need greater focus

“Families are bearing the brunt of this disruption on both a psychological and practical level, and more must be done to meet their needs”

As the Coronavirus crisis widens geographically, the immediate focus for the boarding school sector is to provide up to date health advice to help keep schools virus-free. However, as Pat Moores of UK Education Guide writes, alongside this issue there is a massive human story. 

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, young people are being separated from their families unexpectedly, uncertain when the situation will improve and concerned about their own welfare and the welfare of their families.

We have heard of one Chinese pupil who has donated £750 of her own money to help Wuhan residents, as many of her friends live in the Hubei region and she is very worried about them.

So what about enhanced pastoral care provision during this crisis?

As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary of the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS) says, “anything a school can do to reassure the child and to put into place arrangements that support them emotionally as well as physically is welcome; the most obvious being keeping the school open so that children without good guardians have somewhere familiar to stay.”

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Documentation in times of crisis

“If documents are destroyed, what options does a student have? What happens when the infrastructure is unstable? If records are held online, but there’s no internet available, how is that information obtained?”

In the event of war, economic hardship or natural disasters, students are not always able to provide the standard educational documents, writes research & knowledge management evaluator at Educational Credential Evaluators Melissa Ganiere. So what can be done in times of turmoil to ensure that student qualifications are accessible?

At ECE, we recommend that institutions try to be flexible when dealing with exceptional cases. However, we understand that schools need to adhere to standards while simultaneously keeping the needs and best interests of the student in mind.

The final decision regarding what documents are acceptable is up to your institution. Some best practices have been adopted for documentation issues you might encounter during a crisis.  These may help you gain flexibility without damaging your credibility.

Our top five guidelines for dealing with unusual situations are:

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Social media in a crisis

“Contacting people via social media in a crisis situation is the quickest way to determine safety and whereabouts, especially when there are thousands of miles between you”

If crisis strikes when students are overseas, how can institutions check they’re ok? Email is just too slow, writes Mandy Reinig, director of study away at Virginia Wesleyan College and founder of the social media consultancy Mandy’s Mashups. She explains how social media can help to reach students who might otherwise fall off the radar.

Most people in the field of international education now understand the importance of social media in communicating with students. However, many have yet to harness its power in crisis situations. The world today has become an increasingly volatile place where the unexpected can occur at any moment. As such it is important to be able to have a means of contacting your students to determine their whereabouts and their safety status. Unfortunately, email, and even phone calls, cannot be relied on as the sole or even a reliable means of communication due to the fact that students often do not check their email regularly and in major events phone lines can be down for hours.
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Global risk: universities need to be better prepared

“From terrorism to transnational crime, epidemics to extortion, censorship to cyber security, there has never been a more dangerous time to venture abroad”

Brett Bruen is a former director of global engagement at the White House and US diplomat, and is now president of the consulting firm the Global Situation Room. Here he writes about why universities should take the risks of travelling seriously so they can better protect their students and staff overseas.

The murder of American student Nohemi Gonzalez, during the terrorist attacks in Paris last fall, was a tragic reminder of the risks of studying and researching abroad today. Sadly, those risks are no longer remote. Indeed, they’re regular and rising. From terrorism to transnational crime, epidemics to extortion, censorship to cyber security, there has never been a more dangerous time to venture abroad. Unfortunately, the response by most universities to these threats remains woefully outdated and inadequate.
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Brett Bruen was director of global engagement at the White House and spent twelve years as a US diplomat. He is now president of the consulting firm the Global Situation Room and an adjunct faculty member at the Federal Executive Institute.