Coronavirus challenge is an opportunity to internationalize higher education

As colleges and universities in Israel and worldwide close their campuses over coronavirus concerns, the future of higher education looks uncertain even for domestic students, let alone those who are enrolled from overseas.

Israel has barred all foreigners from entering the country. Depending on how long that policy is in place — and we can only expect the unexpected when it comes to COVID-19 — how can international students enrolled in Israeli academic institutions keep up with their studies in the present and resume those studies in the future? Will they return to Israel before their time on campus is scheduled to end?

The plight of international students is an acute concern at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), where we offer international programs in English to men and women. Ten percent of our total student body is comprised of international students from more than 20 countries. Many of our international students have returned to their countries of origin due to the pandemic, and more will be going home for Passover.

At the same time, JCT feels that we are ahead of the curve in efforts to provide a virtual learning experience to domestic and international students alike. Our online instruction infrastructure was under development several weeks before Israel introduced tighter restrictions on travel and gatherings. Most of our current virtual courses are being conducted live via Zoom, which was integrated into a platform called Moodle (the school’s Learning Management System), so that the video capability is hosted on a platform already familiar to the student and the teacher. Each department at the college has designated one staff or faculty member to guide the entire department through the transition to this online learning environment.

Part of this preparedness stems from the experience we have gleaned from an existing partnership with the European Union’s Erasmus Programme. JCT is part of a consortium of Israeli and European colleges and universities intended to provide academic and personal tools to empower students to adapt to the academic environment in the country where they choose to learn. As part of this project, JCT is tasked with establishing virtual classrooms which will enable international students in Israel and in Europe to study together.

More broadly, the aim of the initiative is to create collaborative social, academic, and business infrastructures for collaboration across borders in the future. Indeed, rather than viewing coronavirus exclusively as an obstacle, higher education institutions can approach this episode as an opportunity to use the vehicle of remote learning to truly internationalize their offerings in an increasingly borderless world. Amid the pandemic, JCT believes its collaboration with the Erasmus Programme promises to inform not only the college’s own operations in Jerusalem, but our greater contributions to higher education delivery mechanisms in Israel and across the globe.

Admittedly, it is exceedingly difficult for colleges and universities to feel at ease about any facet of their operations right now. Yet we are confident that our prior experience with remote learning will help us navigate the COVID-19 crisis as smoothly as possible, while also enabling us to share best practices with our fellow Israeli academic institutions.

About the Author
Stuart Hershkowitz is the Vice President of the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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