The Covid 19 crisis has challenged all aspects of daily life. Ensuring the fundamental missions of higher education systems can continue is part of these challenges. The lives of students have changed, new issues have emerged and new practices have developed.
As places in which large numbers of students gather, universities have to take special measures and adapt themselves to slow the spread of the virus while ensuring continuity of teaching. Many institutions have closed their campuses, cancelled in-person classes and moved to online teaching. For example, according to a survey of the International Association of Universities conducted on more than 400 universities in 102 countries, in April 2020, 67% of the repondant higher education institutions reported that classroom teaching has been replaced by online teaching:
These changes have raised various challenges to the right to higher education, in terms of accessibility, discrimination, equality and quality. An increasing number of testimonies document how students are ‘mentally broken’ in light of the Covid-19 situation, and in response to its impacts on their present student life and their future professional life.
Students’ capacity to follow classes and succeed in their studies is often weakened, as is their motivation to wake up every morning to face a computer all day. In the context of the pandemic, more and more people are suffering from social and psychological issues, but students are especially impacted by this distress as they are particularly isolated. The Covid-19 crisis has also exacerbated existing inequalities, putting students in extremely difficult economic situations, some of them being unable to eat or access medical care.
Because of the online format of classes, some students have developed a feeling of being inferior, of being an imposter, following classes without being really present for their studies, and thus feeling they lack credibility regarding their professional future. Life under covid-19 doesn’t spare any student. There is no separation between studies and personal time, and for many students both are reduced to a lonely and monotonous daily life.
Yet the Covid-19 crisis has also created opportunities. Solidarity, innovation, and the end of geographical barriers are among the positive changes occuring in higher education. Some teachers describe how opportunities have appeared regarding this new organization, such as the possibility to invite worldwide guest lecturers or to learn in a more autonomous way while embracing flexibility. However, the pandemic’s negative consequences on inequalities, mental health, internships, and academic mobility - in addition to the further impacts on higher education institutions such as the need to invest in new technologies, train professors, while managing radically new logistics or the need for tracking students’ health - are probably outweighing the positive consequences.
In reaction to the reality faced by many students, numerous powerful student movements have emerged to defend their rights as human beings and as students. Worldwide, education actors and defenders have joined forces to protect education. This growth of solidarity efforts and experiences have renewed hope and motivation among students, but does not detract from the impression of being the sacrificed generation.
This article is the first of seven pieces in a series entitled 'Impact of Covid-19 on Higher Education: the Student Perspective', which presents the impact of Covid 19 on higher education. Through the stories of Sasha, Iris, Fiona, Quentin, and others, we invite you to explore the wider pattern of students’ experiences, their difficulties, their distress and their doubts, in addition to the challenges faced by teachers and university staff. The article series is part of a broader project at the Sciences Po Law Clinic investigating inequalities in higher education in France, and is delivered by Inès Girard, Fiona Vanston and Elodie Faïd, three Master’s students at Sciences Po Paris working with Right to Education Initiative.
A new intallment in the series will launch each Wednesday. Find out more about our work on higherer education here.
Elodie Faïd - Master's student in Human rights and humanitarian action at Sciences Po Paris
Fiona Vanston - Master's student in Human rights and humanitarian action at Sciences Po Paris