UNESCO IESALC urges States to ensure the right to Higher Education with equal opportunities in the context of COVID-19
On World Health Day UNESCO IESALC launches the Report "COVID-19 and higher education: today and tomorrow. Impact analysis, policy responses and recommendations".
The temporary cessation of face-to-face activities of higher education institutions on a global scale has operated as a huge disruptor on their operation, with impacts that depend on their ability to stay active and their financial sustainability. Students and teachers have been affected by the indefinite closure of HEIs and without clarity on the duration of the cessation of activities. Given the supposed cessation of face-to-face activities equivalent to a quarter or more, it is probable that demand will retract in the short term and an upward rebound and where rates are low or non-existent. In the context of the progressive exit from the crisis, governments should have higher education for their economic and social recovery and HEIs must ensure continuity with equity.
The COVID-19 pandemic adds a further degree of complexity to higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean, which comes from facing unresolved challenges, such as growth without quality, inequities in access and achievement, and loss progressive public financing. This is indicated by the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, IESALC in its most recent work entitled COVID-19 and higher education. Impact analysis, political responses and recommendations (IESALC, 2020), a document in process that seeks to serve as a reference to political decision-makers of higher education in the region amidst the disruption caused in the sector by COVID-19.
The report begins with the immediate, medium and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the different actors in the sector: students have been forced to enter into an unplanned dynamic of distance classes, which affects their daily lives, costs and their financial burdens as well as the continuity of their learning and international mobility. Those who have not had a quality continuity offer and with individualized follow-up will probably dissociate themselves from the academic rhythm and increase their risk of leaving the system. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, entering a distance study phase requires a high rate of quality connectivity. However, only one in two homes is connected. “The paradox is that, despite the fact that the connectivity rates in homes are very different, the rates of mobile lines are extremely high and exceed, in many cases, the figure of one line per person. This is, without a doubt, an opportunity that higher education institutions (HEIs) should take advantage of, focusing their efforts on technological solutions and content for use on mobile phones."
Student access to the technologies and platforms required for distance education (76%) and the institutions' real ability, in technological and pedagogical terms, to offer quality online education (75%), leaves out 25% of students and institutions. Many authorities admit that “the change in modality was made in an unpredictable emergency situation and that they should, from now on, plan a next term in online teaching with greater pedagogical support and resources, anticipating that the duration of the crisis will go beyond a quarter. “In this context, teachers constitute themselves as a vulnerable sector, especially in the case of those hired temporarily or for practical subjects, who run the risk of being unemployed due to the characteristics of their jobs". In addition, the digital divide threatens the stability of a majority that does not have the tools and resources to continue with classes in virtual mode.
In this critical environment, the financial sustainability of private HEIs comes into play: “Cash flows may not arrive, generating problems of financial survival. This may be critical for private universities that cannot guarantee virtual teaching continuity. It is likely that these should temporarily suspend the collection of tariffs and that some close."
Download report here.