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Challenges created by the global COVID-19 pandemic are shaping the contours of a new internationalization of higher education and encouraging universities to look for ways to deepen collaboration, such as by working digitally, presidents of universities said at a recent forum held in Jinan in Shandong province.
Seventeen presidents from universities around the world attended the World University Presidents' Forum both in person and online on Oct 14, to discuss the challenges and developmental trends facing higher education in the post-epidemic era. The forum was organized by Shandong University as a part of its 120th anniversary celebrations.
"The COVID-19 pandemic triggered profound changes in education. It has accelerated the deep integration of higher education and modern information technology," said Fan Liming, SDU president. "Openness and cooperation are important to universities promoting scientific research and innovation, as well as addressing global challenges."
She added that she was considering how to use SDU's current resources to deepen global cooperation in the post-epidemic era.
SDU cooperates with over 200 higher education schools and scientific research and development organizations in 30 countries and regions. Leveraging its contacts, the university invited 204 overseas teachers to offer online classes using interactive features such as real-time video this summer. The classes were taken by a total of 5,507 students.
Wang Qunxing, a student who is pursuing a master's degree at SDU's Institute of Cultural Heritage, has continued his work on an archaeological project online.
The project, which involves the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, SDU and the Nairobi National Museum, began in 2017. Wang joined in 2018, going to Kenya for a month as part of efforts to uncover the origins of the first humans, but pandemic disruptions meant he was unable to return to Kenya. Instead, together with researchers in Kenya, he's continuing the discussions and examination of unearthed remains online.
"The month of on-site research work in Kenya not only expanded my understanding of the origins of humans, but provided me with opportunities to get to know the methods used by Kenyan archaeologists," Wang said, adding that although research can continue online, it is still better for students majoring in archaeology to conduct on-site research.
Brian P. Schmidt, vice-chancellor and president of the Australian National University, said via videolink to the forum, "Although the pandemic has given the world a set of tools to work together digitally in a way that wasn't possible before, we'll have to work hard not to go backward in terms of international collaboration and fracture into groups of those able to travel to meet each other."
Transformational processes in higher education during the pandemic have attained a global scale, Oleg Yastrebov, rector of the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) said via videolink to the forum.
"All at once, the transition of universities around the world to distance learning and teaching took place. Universities are faced with the need to change the format of everything they do. For Russian universities, as well as for many others, digitalization has been a megatrend, defining all aspects of their activities," Yastrebov said.
RUDN is running several network programs, including one with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization University.