The Covid-19 pandemic is a human tragedy on a mammoth scale which has caught all of us unaware. While this pandemic hasn’t been kind to anyone, it has created a vast number of problems for the education sector. Most higher education institutions (HEIs) are struggling to close the semester/academic-year, and those which have managed to do so, are now grappling with the uncertainties tied with the next semester.
The students, however, are missing out on the on-campus interactions, which form an integral part of college life. Therefore, various modes of online-collaboration among students should be explored (both academic and extracurricular). For HEIs with hostel facilities, onboarding of students returning back to campus is a major challenge with deep ramifications. Region-wise consortia of HEIs should be formed to discuss common problems and share the best-practices. Additionally, those students who were in their final year of college and were preparing for placements have also been suffering as many companies have frozen hiring due to financial constraints and decreased demand.
Challenges before HEIs
Unemployment is a matter of grave concern for fresh graduates. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, 27 million youth in the age group of 20-30 years lost their jobs in April 2020 following a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Those students who had been able to secure jobs in their dream companies are now both afraid and anxious that the offers might be withdrawn due to decreasing demand and the economic crisis that is plaguing the entire world at this moment.
One of the major concerns has been the unquestionable toll on the mental health of students due to the lockdown — especially the students who are pursuing higher education. The uncertainty that this pandemic has created in the job market has seriously affected the morale of many final-year students who were on the brink of getting placed and eager to start their professional careers. To counter this, many institutions throughout the nation are conducting online counselling sessions for their students. It is imperative that periodic ‘well-being surveys’ should be conducted both for faculty and students to assess their state of mind and also to figure out what proactive steps the HEIs should take in order to mitigate their concerns.
The pandemic has forced the educational institutes to think creatively about enforcing social distancing norms, providing higher levels of sanitation, and also plan for additional requirements of infrastructure. These would lead to additional costs. There is also the likelihood that the fee collection will be delayed/reduced, which might create a ripple effect. The faculty and other employees at these universities may have to suffer pay-cuts, and perhaps imminent delays in promotions and bonuses.
Many institutes are refraining from hiring faculty-members for open positions, which could affect the quality of education in the near future. In HEIs, the hiring of good faculty has been a perennial challenge, and this is perhaps a good time to recruit top-quality faculty. The present situation can also be considered as an opportunity to join hands with other like-minded institutions to create a pool of experts for combined delivery of courses. This pandemic has also created a need for professionals to reskill/up-skill themselves in order to adapt to the changing scenarios. HEIs should respond to this emerging requirement by developing and offering online courses for practitioners and industry professionals.
The nature of this pandemic is highly unpredictable. The ongoing crisis has attracted a lot of attention on “what is going to change”. However, there are certain underlying things and processes which are not changing despite the ongoing scenario. Strategies and solutions should be built around these stable quality parameters. For HEIs, better quality of students, first-rate faculty, excellent curriculum, etc, are some of the parameters which should be strengthened further. Many educational institutes have formed something similar to a ‘Covid-Response Committee’ with representation from all important stakeholders to look at both the challenges and the opportunities associated with this crisis. In a way, the pandemic has ‘fast-forwarded’ the future, and this is the time to reimagine effective delivery of education. This crisis is not to be wasted.
What can IT firms do?
The uncertainty and lockdown have undoubtedly increased pressure on IT firms. However, all dark clouds have a silver lining. Many senior executives from leading IT firms have stated that even though the pandemic has affected their businesses, they will continue to hire fresh graduates from top campuses.
And there is logic to it. The IT companies are still continuing with their recruitment plans because they do not want to miss out on the post-pandemic opportunities that are likely to be created. However, lateral hiring has been frozen in most companies and the experienced candidates are being hired strictly on a need basis. Many IT firms are readjusting their hiring-strategy to have just enough new employees in order to meet any anticipated surge in demand. Once the demand picks up, a lot of companies would suffer from shortage of resources.
The author is the director at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi.