Rethinking university education in the post-pandemic period

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The National University of Fiji was re-established as a university in 2010, although its genesis began in 1885. The learning model has not changed much since the 19th century.

The post-high school education we provide to our Fijian and regional students at our universities does not meet our national needs. The University of Fiji can gain popularity with disadvantaged students by declaring on its website that “We are poor”. The USP can declare that it is “shaping the future of the Pacific” as a regional conflict continues to cling to it like the sword of Damocles. The National University of Fiji can claim to be the premier university in Fiji while surviving almost entirely through government grants. The reality is that there is a solid conversation between students, parents, industries and even government about how university education should be redesigned to cope with the ever-changing local and global pandemic landscape and to educate learners able to adapt their professional skills. to adapt to the new demands of the workplace, technology and consumer needs.

Questioning the notion of learning

The pandemic has made us question the whole notion of university education. During the months when students were confined to their homes, the Education Department acted quickly by providing Fijian high school students with online study notes and guiding questions. University students have done most of their learning exclusively on online platforms. There were start-up issues because universities were always concerned with face-to-face learning or a blended mode requiring a face-to-face component. They did not adapt quickly to the “new normal” where learners were confined to their homes for months. Universities in Fiji have yet to seize the dynamic of online learning where illustrated lectures, discussion forums, student-centric YouTube videos and illustrated assignments can be posted. There’s always a fixation on talking heads on videos and really long, copious notes stuck on PowerPoint slides. Online learning can be fun, but teachers need to adapt.

One positive aspect of the pandemic is the realization that we need to take society out of school. The traditional high school and college classroom has become obsolete. University professors, for example, prepare their teaching notes for a cycle of 6 months to 3 years. Knowledge is being produced at a faster rate and the traditional brick and mortar learning institution is no longer adequate. We have also become painfully aware that the “teacher” (the lecturer) is no longer an adequate conduit for wisdom and knowledge for learners. Teachers will have to reinvent themselves for online platforms and see themselves as facilitators of lifelong learning. Universities should also experiment with peer learning where other students provide teaching and learning support.

FNU

The National University of Fiji was re-established as a university in 2010, although its genesis began in 1885. The learning model has not changed much since the 19th century. To this day, a number of teachers from the baby boom generation still prefer to write handwritten teaching notes despite the advent of ICT. In one case, I discovered (by accident) that the notes I used for class notes (when I was a teacher) before I got married have still been in use for 30 years!

As a dual-sector university, there is an urgent need to move away from the academic university model of traditional 2 and 4 year study programs based on ‘types’ of degrees, research intensity, resources and populations. students. We now have a diverse mix of students who are farmers, parents, full-time workers and from disadvantaged backgrounds. It usually takes more than 2 to 3 years, or even more, to obtain a professional certificate, diploma or associate degree.

The Fijian government will need to change its EFTS-based university funding model of traditional university student programs. If not, then it will be “as usual”. The trend is towards shorter intensive courses providing specific skills and delivered through modules. There is now less demand for traditional university degrees. In Fiji and the Pacific, local teachers and students are also openly questioning the Eurocentric models that underpin these degrees. While understanding the dynamics of the “Age of Enlightenment” or “Rape of the Sabine Women” may be a good topic for drinking Moselle or Riesling wines, knowledge is irrelevant in our Pacific situations. There is no pleasure in acquiring degrees where you cannot find a job. Most young learners now take skills-based TVET courses that lead to gainful employment.

Two sector system

The National University of Fiji, with its two-sector system, faces a dilemma; whether it is to stay with the safe, uncreative model it monotonously sailed with from 1885 to 2010 (when it became a university) to 2021 and beyond. The signs are clear that learning outcomes need to be based on quality and productivity based on proactive research that meets the needs of Fiji and the Pacific region. It seems immoral that when our nation’s existence is threatened by disease and economic depression, that universities have failed to rise to the challenge. For example, there is no research on traditional medicinal plants that can be turned into pharmaceuticals to fight tropical diseases. When most universities are in their DNA to engage with business, multilateral and philanthropic groups for funding, our universities depend almost exclusively on government funding. This must change immediately. Academics should no longer think of themselves as a privileged class. They are expected to generate a substantial portion of their 5- and 6-figure salaries. USP is probably on the right track in continuing to survive without Fijian government grants! A time will come when the government will provide only 60% of a university’s recurring budget, with the balance being generated from other sources of revenue.

Questions from students

In the post-pandemic period, students wonder if the college education they are currently receiving is worth the SUCH money they are putting into it. A purely face-to-face academic learning style is seen as a handicap, especially among professors whose thinking seems frozen into the ideas of yesterday. One dean boasted that he was not logged into any social network or online learning forum. And to say that we aspire to be a regional locomotive of university innovation!

The National University of Fiji should offer a number of flexible pathways. This will mean more technical certificates and diplomas associated with TVET which will lead to high demand jobs requiring specialized skills.

Industries have been sluggish

Industries (construction, engineering, manufacturing, retail, tourism) in Fiji haven’t helped matters. They must constantly update their equipment and technologies to keep pace with global trends. Currently, they continue to use obsolete equipment. Keeping pace with global industry benchmarks will inspire our Fijian universities to act accordingly.

In a dual-sector university like the FNU, students’ achievements must be taken into account. Online certificate, diploma and degree course offerings must provide pathways ranging from six months to 48 months (or longer). It will depend on the situation of the learners or the state of their finances.

What we also need to understand is that machines (and computers) are getting smarter by the day. In a technology-enhanced Fiji, workers will need not only the skills (to operate the machines), but also the values ​​and empathy to be able to solve problems, be innovative, have analytical skills and be good people. communicators.

The pandemic has called into question our notions of university education. The pandemic was sent by God to challenge our assumptions about online learning, dropping out of school in society, not being dependent on government grants, and being sustainable. If universities continue to abstain and demand government grants as their right, it is best if they close down and academics use their lecture notes as compost.

Feedback: joseph.veramu@outlook.com

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