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“We will survive. We have to”: View from AIFS

The PIE News - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 10:19

We were having our best year. AIFS had acquired two innovative organisations, the US based Global Experiences and IEC Online, a German company.

Our global study abroad and cultural exchange programs were approaching 50,000 participants for the year. Morale was high and our talented and experienced staff were planning many new ventures.

Sitting on a balcony in Turks & Caicos on vacation, gazing out at Grace Bay beach, I felt content knowing that we were on the verge of something great. Then the world changed. Flights began to stop, and the program cancellations began in earnest.  A chain reaction duplicated around the globe.

My emotions became overwhelming—first the grief for the sick and dying and then the fear of the unknown. What will become of the field of international education and cultural exchange?

As of today, with no end in sight and the suffering getting worse, here is what I see in our future:

We will survive. We have to. Our mission is too important. If there is one thing the virus has shown us, it is the importance of international cooperation.

We will become smaller in every respect. Participants, staff, locations.

We will go to fewer conferences with less staff in tow. Some will be held virtually but will be less effective as conferences are about networking and social activities. Always have been.

Will our customer support suffer with fewer staff?  When will we begin to grow again?

We will expand usage of Zoom and other communications platforms. Acceptable alternatives but they will plateau when our offices reopen.

There are many options we will have to consider:

Will we, as a field, continue to financially support diversity organisations and send students to non-traditional destinations?  Will we continue to fully support membership-based organisations? Will our customer support suffer with fewer staff?  When will we begin to grow again?

In time we will rebuild. As my friend Alan Goodman, President of IIE and an acute student of history, told me “exchanges always come back strong after pandemics.” This is uplifting and true.

I have been in this field for 45 years, 35 years at AIFS. I can only hope we all recover quickly and continue to bring the world together through international education and cultural exchange.  There is no goal more noble – or necessary during these times.

As Bruce Springsteen said, “No Retreat, No Surrender”

So, see you out there at some point. Stay safe.

William L (Bill) Gertz is the Chairman and CEO of AIFS, a leading global education and cultural exchange organization founded in 1964.

 

Previous columns:

How do you show solidarity virtually?, Ruth Arnold

Covid-19: Time for the Pace Car, Karan Khemka

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UK: Richmond & China Education Group partner

The PIE News - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 09:28

Richmond, The American International University in London, has signed an agreement with the China Education Group which will “secure the long-term future of the university”.

The partnership will make Richmond’s degrees more accessible to students worldwide, the partners said.

“We both keep our students’ interest at the heart of everything we do”

The deal will also benefit students at Richmond, who will be able to access internships and exchange programs at CEG’s international portfolio of universities – which includes nine universities and colleges in China and King’s Own Institute in Australia. In 2019/20 CEG had enrolled approximately 180,000 students from nearly 100 countries.

The university will also have a “greater reach in international marketing and recruitment”.

The partnership will “continue the mission in building an open, vibrant, and internationally focused University that welcomes people from all parts of the globe,” said the new chair of the Board of Richmond, Roger King.

It is a sentiment shared by Yu Guo, co-chairman of CEG.

“Richmond and CEG share a very common mission: to contribute to society through the pursuit of education,” Guo added.

“We also both keep our students’ interest at the heart of everything we do and are immensely proud of our highly dedicated faculty and staff.”

Established in 1972, Richmond is the only university in the UK which awards both UK and US degrees.

“Richmond has successfully built a unique UK-US curriculum over the years, combining the very best of higher education of the world’s two leading systems,” Xie Ketao, co-chairman of CEG added.

The partnership will “further widen [Richmond’s] global reach and develop its leadership in internationally focused liberal arts education” at its London campuses in Richmond and Kensington, Ketao noted.

The university will remain as a self-governing not-for-profit entity.

“I am delighted that this partnership has secured our future and we will continue to develop by providing our unique educational experience for many generations to come,” Phil Deans, president of Richmond concluded.

In 2019, Richmond trustee William G. Durden made a case for how an American liberal arts approach could improve the British higher education system on The PIE Blog.

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US educators push for clarity on work rules and protections for students

The PIE News - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 07:59

As coronavirus continues to steer the international education sector further into unchartered territory, a webinar has revealed educators are worried about the enduring appeal of the country as a study destination if visa processing is not revived soon enough, and work rules are not clarified.

With the industry at a ‘shelter in place’ footing with many US universities forced to partially close their campuses, the briefing organised by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration in conjunction with NAFSA featured the perspectives of policy experts and higher education leaders.

The sector has concerns around international students’ ongoing access to work rights, via the optical practical training [OPT] programs, amid turbulence in the jobs market.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed students can continue their coursework online without it adversely affecting their visa status, a letter penned to DHS by NAFSA outlines concerns that remain around OPT, among a wider wishlist.

“We want the government to adapt…to protect the health and safety of international students”

Addressing webinar attendees, NAFSA director of Regulatory Practice Liaison Steve Springer explained the organisation has been looking at some key areas.

“We want the government to adapt, first of all, to protect the health and safety of international students and exchange visitors,” he said.

“We want them to adapt to facilitate the maintenance of status of these folk, and institutional compliance with laws. We want them to use electronic records and documents to avoid the location-based problem.

“And then finally, we want them to provide resources, guidance and other kinds of resources to students and exchange visitors.”

Among the requests in NAFSA’s letter to DHS was for the department to not consider the time spent unemployed during the COVID-19 emergency towards the post-completion OPT and STEM OPT unemployment limits.

“Another issue…will SEVP and DHS make accommodations for students on OPT who are laid off or furloughed?” asked Springer.

“When you’re on OPT or STEM OPT, you’re limited in the amount of time you can be unemployed, so that’s going to be a huge issue for students if they’re furloughed for a long time, and we’re hoping for some guidance on that.”

Described as one of the country’s “greatest strengths” for attracting international students, the number of participants in OPT programs grew by 9.6% to 223,085 in 2018/19.

On March 27,  SEVP updated its FAQ on the question ‘Due to COVID-19, what is SEVP’s advice to students who want to apply for OPT? Is there any chance that students would be able to apply for post-completion OPT from outside the United States?’.

“DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorisation and status requests for F and M students and has yet to issue official guidance on these issues,” SEVP wrote.

Speaking at the webinar, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Alan Cramb, said that clarity on the situation is key, adding that many students come to the US by borrowing money, “sometimes at 12% or higher, and use OPT and CPT as a method to either reduce or eliminate this debt”.

“If OPT is not available or is in doubt, many students will not come to the US,” he warned.

Regarding economic hardship authorisation – where an F-1 student may request off-campus work authorisation based on unforeseen circumstances – professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School, Stephen Yale-Loehr, said it is determined on a case-by-case basis.

“We don’t know how the immigration agency is going to interpret [it] or be generous or restrictive in granting it given the coronavirus situation,” he added.

“But simply stating ‘I deserve work authorisation because of COVID-19’ will not work. You need to have very specific, very individualised facts to present a compelling case to the immigration agency about that.”

Springer said that going forward, NAFSA will be shifting emphasis towards what lies ahead for fall 2020.

“That’s obviously a huge issue facing us,” Springer said, while Cramb pointed out that the economic model of education in the US “does not work if there are no international students, even for one semester”.

“If OPT is not available or is in doubt, many students will not come to the US”

“However, we face that possibility this fall [because of] one action; no visas are being given in all consulates around the world for travel to the United States, and students who had their reserved times for an interview had them cancelled with no new date only told reapply later,” Cramb said.

He described the State department’s decision to halt all visa processing as an “unprecedented fiscal and scholarly challenge” to American colleges and universities.

“We must advocate for this process to continue, even if it means that the interview is not done in person and that duel intent should be allowed.”

Cramb added that the most important thing to consider is that how international students are treated today will determine how many international students the US will have tomorrow.

“If we look after our current students and care for them, they will go back to their countries and people will still come.

“If we treat them poorly now or don’t look after them, that’ll have a really bad effect on our future with international students,” he said.

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Preply raises $10m for online tutor service

The PIE News - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 07:58

Online learning platform Preply has raised $10 million in additional funding – doubling the total raised in previous rounds – as it seeks to grow its network of 10,000 verified tutors teaching 50 languages across the globe.

The company will use the new funding to upscale in markets across North America and Europe, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK.

“The new funding allows us to bring US learners a more in-depth and varied offering”

It also hopes to introduce new tools, assessments and homework for tutors and students, as well as expand beyond language training.

“Online learning is changing fast,” said Preply CEO, Kirill Bigai.

“Though the company focuses primarily on language learning today, tutors are also beginning to teach maths, chemistry and creative writing using the platform as we envision a future where anyone can learn anything using Preply.”

The company hopes to open an office in the US by the end of 2020.

“The European market is very multicultural – a lot of people speak or learn two or three foreign languages. This, in turn, means that the European market is more developed,” Bigai added.

“That’s the expertise we’re taking with us to the US. The new funding allows us to bring US learners a more in-depth and varied offering with our unrivalled number and selection of tutors from Europe, Latin America and APAC.”

The round was led by London-based Hoxton Ventures – with participation from European investors Point Nine Capital, All Iron Ventures, The Family, EduCapital, and Diligent Capital. Individual angel investors including Arthur Kosten of Booking.com; Gary Swart, former CEO of Upwork; David Helgason, Founder of Unity technologies; and Daniel Hoffer, Founder of Couchsurfing also participated.

“Getting to know Kirill and the team at Preply we were most impressed with their tremendous growth already in the US market as well as the size of the global market in online language tutoring,” Rob Kniaz of Hoxton Ventures noted.

“We believe the team has vast opportunity ahead of it, especially in the English-learning segment of the market where Preply already demonstrates market leadership.”

Since being founded in 2013, two million classes have been taught by teachers of 160 nationalities on the platform.

Preply uses machine-learning to increase the efficiency of pairing tutors with learners – leading to smarter connections and more effective language learning. The company also enables tutors to boost their income and maximise classes by providing training and lesson plans.

The new funding will also give Preply the opportunity to develop its mobile offering, streamlining its app to be more efficient and user-friendly.

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Eurocentres looks to “blended” learning product

The PIE News - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 02:45

Global English language provider Eurocentres has created a flexible, blended, online ELT product – featuring virtual interactive live classes – for students currently unable to travel to its schools due to the coronavirus.

With a digital core to the ELT business, senior management has explained how they believe the business is well placed to adapt to market conditions and offer an experience that can fit around students’ new reality.

“The idea is simply to make [a product] that’s as flexible as possible”

“We have a point of difference in the market from pure play online providers, which gives students that intense immersive experience,” CEO Zach Holmes said.

“It is a challenge for the whole industry to recreate that because it is different – it’s never going to be the same product.”

The focus for the provider is virtual interactive live classes, personalised tutorials and study plans, he added.

Eurocentres Online has been designed to offer Eurocentres’s usual English language training and 21st-century communication skills online, in order to allow students to seamlessly switch to face-to-face classes when the crisis passes.

“The idea is simply to make [a product] that’s as flexible as possible and that people will enjoy like they would if they travelled to one of our schools,” said Eurocentres’ head of marketing, Alexis Lhuillier.

Class demos will be available for free so Eurocentres can extend their products to the client bases of agent partners.

The blended product will potentially attract new students who might not have plans to travel at all, Lhuillier confirmed, adding that the product is being launched at a time when ELT providers are having to quickly adapt to new circumstances created out of the pandemic.

“What can we do to provide a product that students ultimately want, given the uncertainty that we’re in?” Holmes asked.

“Learning English is still going to be important, [as will] communication skills.”

EC English, St Giles, LAL and British Study Centres have all boosted their online provisions. Some – like Eurocentres – have offered an online product for some time.

“Luckily for us, we’ve had this Eurocentres eLearning platform – my.Eurocentres – product for quite a while now,” said Holmes.

“All of our teachers understand the importance of digital learning and the blended approach.”

Eurocentres already had a product of this type in its strategic plan going forward, Holmes added. “It’s just been accelerated quite significantly.”

“All of our teachers understand the importance of digital learning and the blended approach”

The school will deliver “as much as it can” online before students have the opportunity to return to classrooms to complete their studies, Holmes said.

By improving online provisions, Eurocentres can transform a six week classroom course, into a 12-16 week learning experience, which will maximise student outcomes for less cost, Holmes added.

The blended product, “where students are offered the ability to stay at home before coming into a Eurocentres school – that’s something we want to see longer-term,” he said.

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Faculty discuss their quick transition to online instruction

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00

The University of Washington was the first major U.S. college or university to announce, amid rising concerns about the coronavirus's spread, that it would move instruction online. At that point Seattle was the epicenter of the disease in the United States.

The UW campuses were kept open for students who had nowhere else to go, but many chose to leave.

Preliminary data from the university showed occupancy on campus for this spring is about 22 to 24 percent of what it was in the fall. Though the university is enrolling more registered students this spring than last, it saw an increased number of student withdrawals after March 18, when it announced the move to remote instruction for the full spring quarter. From that day to March 29, there were 225 withdrawals, compared to 153 in the same period last year.

We checked in with faculty members at the university to ask how the transition was going for them and their students.

Successful, but Stressful

Joseph Janes, a professor in the Information School and chair of the Faculty Senate, said the move was going "about as well as you could expect." While there have been, to his knowledge, no technological disasters, faculty members in his school, like many others during this crisis, are stretched thin.

"The level of stress, the level of uncertainty and anxiety is just really high, and for understandable reasons," he said during an interview over spring break. "People are managing and doing the best they can and particularly trying to reassure students and stay in touch with students, many of whom are feeling very anxious, very stressed in a deeply uncertain time for all of us."

The University of Washington uses a quarter system. Though the original announcement by President Ana Mari Cauce said the university would be online for its winter quarter, which ended March 20, the university extended the suspension to the spring term, which begins Monday.

Janes said faculty members relied heavily on adrenaline during the last weeks of the quarter. The spring may be a bigger challenge. Moving an ongoing class online, where instructors benefit from already having a relationship with students, is one thing. Starting a class online is another, entirely.

"Now it's the long haul, and I think that's setting in," he said. "Some disciplines are going to find that easier than others."

Courses That Can't Be Adapted

Since a massive wave of colleges have now moved to online delivery, many have questioned how faculty can conduct courses in dance, social work, forestry and other disciplines that usually require fieldwork or physical presence. And, for students majoring in those fields, what will happen if these courses cannot be completed?

Jennifer Salk, who chairs UW's dance department, said that in the winter session, instructors teaching dance technique courses (such as ballet, tango or tap) simply had to grade students on the work they had already completed. The technique classes couldn't be completed online.

"Our students are dispersing all over the world," Salk said. "They might have a three-by-three space to move in. Safety and viability and integrity would be lost."

For the winter quarter, all dance technique courses, over 20 of them, were canceled, along with a few others that couldn't be adapted for online. Salk said most students who are dance majors already have the required credit for those types of courses. For the very few who don't, the department is waiving the requirement.

"There's just nothing we can do. It's not their fault," she said. "We can't make them stay an extra quarter because this happened to them."

The university offers over 7,000 courses across its three campuses. For this spring, only about 175 have been canceled.

The dance department is offering a few small, not-for-credit technique course options that are specifically designed for small spaces.

But Salk emphasized that many other dance courses can continue perfectly well online with some minor adjustments. Independent studies and capstone classes are one example, as well as an introductory dance course that already was held online. Salk herself designed the online class -- where students learn dance concepts, respond to readings and interview dancers -- about 10 years ago. All department graduate students, who previously taught technique courses, now grade students in the online class. The course is open to campus.

Help From Administrators

Salk said the university has been very helpful for faculty in figuring out technology and course design. Cauce announced that the university would be making the first week of courses free of graded assignments, giving everyone time to get to know each other and figure out the technology.

"They're doing an incredible job," Salk said. "They're doing the best they can."

Michelle Bagshaw, a lecturer in the School of Social Work and associate director of the Office of Field Education, said that in her personal experience, the transition has gone well. The university held trainings for professors on technology, online teaching and course design.

"Our dean's office really mobilized," she said. "They brought in instructors with expertise in creating and delivering online courses and offered training immediately, in addition to the deans and program faculty being available to consult with faculty about questions they have."

Faculty from the Information School also helped run trainings on software like Zoom and Panopto.

Social work as a discipline often requires practical field experience. One of the requirements for a social welfare major, for example, is structured practical learning. Though the university has had to pull students out of working physically in the community, the college has developed some remote activities students can do with local agencies to achieve the same competencies.

"Agencies are in crisis right now," Bagshaw said. "If there's anything our students can do to support them, that's our first hope."

Being Understanding About Unprecedented Challenges

Bagshaw herself is running an undergrad capstone class. She's cleared the first hurdle -- an in-class panel of experts -- by transitioning to a recorded interview that was posted online.

Janes said many faculty may be in challenging situations right now, with kids or elderly relatives at home. He says people have responded by becoming more flexible and understanding of one another.

"I don't think any of us ever thought anything like this would ever happen," he said. "It's just going to be part of the fabric of how transcripts are written, how CVs are written, how we do personnel decisions for this year."

Janes added, "This is just going to be one of those things that we carry with us for 30 years."

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Being honest with students can help prevent abrupt college closures, report says

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00

When Mount Ida College -- a small, private college just outside Boston -- announced in 2018 that it would close, students were left scrambling.

The teach-out plans put in place did not cover all programs. Many students in good standing who were automatically admitted to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth couldn’t make the 70-plus-mile drive to campus each day. Students with loans received little information about discharges and were only directed to their loan servicer.

A new report from the left-leaning think tank New America examines what happened at Mount Ida and 11 other colleges that recently closed. The report, “Anticipating and Managing Precipitous College Closures,” presents ways to reduce the number of colleges that shutter without warning.

Between the 2008-09 and 2016-17 academic years, more than 300 colleges in the United States shut their doors, according to the report. Some closures are inevitable, the report assumes, and as the new coronavirus continues to inflict its toll on college finances, experts agree that more colleges will be forced to close in coming years.

The biggest takeaway from the report, according to two of its co-authors, Amy Laitinen and Clare McCann, both of New America, is that regulating bodies, including accreditors, federal and state departments of higher education, and state governments, need to pay closer attention to the financial health of the institutions under their watch. Laitinen is director for higher education and McCann is deputy director for federal higher education policy at the think tank's education policy program.

Financial responsibility tests often lag by several years, meaning the data are old by the time they are released. Current tests are also sometimes gamed by institutions, according to the report. The Government Accountability Office found that the Education Department’s financial composite score “has predicted only half of closures since the academic year 2010-11.”

Significant declines in enrollment and retention rates, program and course cancellations, and underperformance on student achievement could all be signs of financial distress at an institution, the report states.

Effective leadership is also critical for keeping colleges open, said Jamienne Studley, president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, a regional accreditor, and co-author of the report.

"Every story is different," Studley said. "Institutional failures range from tiny independent colleges to enterprises within complex corporate entities."

She added that accreditors and other regulatory bodies must judge “the ability of the board to assess the situation, and not to be clouded by factors ranging from corporate profitability to emotional attachment to the history of the school.”

Once a closure is definite, colleges can take several steps to inform students, faculty and staff and provide them with adequate planning time and resources.

The report recommends a teach-out agreement that requires colleges to follow through, as opposed to just a plan​. Ensuring student records are accessible and without holds is also a must.

Ed Wingenbach stepped up to helm Hampshire College in July of last year after a previous administration explored mergers, prompting some of the college's backers to fear it was headed for closure. He’s since focused on righting the ship and establishing Hampshire for a long future. Still, he is creating contingency plans so that in the event of a possible closure, students aren’t left hanging. These plans include agreements with the state department of education​ about student records access.

For colleges trying to head off a potential closure, Wingenbach stressed the need for realistic goal setting.

Hampshire leadership had to “come up with a realistic, viable business plan that worked from the most conservative assumptions about revenue on every level and stretch that out over five years,” he said. “I think what a lot of colleges do, when they think they’re in trouble or headed for trouble, is they build future projections that assume that they’re going to bring in more students and that those students are going to bring in more net revenue per student, and that their costs will go down.”

Keeping students and staff informed of changes is also crucial, according to the New America report. New federal regulations will require colleges to notify students and staff after their accreditors ask for a teach-out plan.

“Students should also be notified of other high-risk changes to the school’s structure, such as mergers, changes in ownership, and changes in control,” the report states. “And colleges should be required to provide disclosures to students by their accreditors when agency actions are taken.”

Laitinen and McCann emphasized that the steps listed in their report should be considered before a closure is around the corner, not after.

The new coronavirus will heighten financial challenges for many colleges.

“All sectors and all types [of colleges] are going to be impacted” by the virus, said David Tandberg, vice president for policy research and strategic initiatives at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and another co-author of the report. “Those that are coming into this crisis in an already precarious situation are going to be the ones that are most impacted.”

Not only could the coronavirus yield more college closures, but more of them could be seemingly out of the blue.

“Because of the urgency of this situation, schools are being granted a lot of flexibility” from regulating bodies, Laitinen said. “Right now, we may be on the brink of more precipitous closures.”

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Mental health support systems for coping with pandemic

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00

As college students and faculty members face an onslaught of stressors related to the disruptions in their lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they are relying on each other for connection and coping strategies to help ease the weight of the public health crisis on their mental health.

While administrators and other employees are undoubtedly also affected by the dramatic departure of people from college and university campuses across the country, the upheaval has been most felt by students and faculty members who interacted more frequently and consistently -- and had more symbiotic relationships -- than others on campus.

Many students and faculty now find themselves functioning in unfamiliar terrain -- and struggling emotionally.

Colleges and universities are doing what they can to quickly shift counseling services for students from in-person therapy to telephone or video sessions. The technology is considered an effective replacement -- at least for now -- for the human connection that many students seek and need, and an important tool to lessen depressive symptoms, said Erica Riba, senior adviser for the Jed Foundation’s JED Campus program, one of the leading mental health and suicide prevention programs for colleges and universities, with about 300 member institutions.

She said some student feel a sense of loss after being told to leave their campus and return home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“There’s loss of identity -- ‘Who am I as a student, now that I’m trying to figure out what’s next and what all this means,’” Riba said. “This whole idea of social distancing is obviously important, but what we’re trying to point out is physically distancing. The social connection is very important right now.”

She said classes and coursework might be the only way students interact with each other while social distancing measures are in place, and she recommends that instructors look for ways to encourage students to share how the pandemic has impacted them, such as facilitating a discussion board.

This was one of the first ways Margaret Price, an English professor and director of disability studies at Ohio State University, gauged how her students were doing after the university ended in-person classes and announced it would move to online-only instruction.

Price said some instructors had suggested that the university conclude the semester early and give students a break, but she disagreed. Her special-topics English course, Rhetorics of Illness and Disability, is heavily discussion-based and very tight-knit; her students told Price they didn’t want to lose those connections amid “an avalanche of other losses” to their college experience over the last month.

“They already feel as though the world has shut down on them at an incredibly important part of their lives,” said Price, who has post-traumatic stress disorder. “A number of my students mentioned that they had paid so much for their education in financial cost and emotional sacrifices.”

Price assigned her English students to keep a private journal for the remainder of the semester and to post five excerpts from their journals that they’re comfortable sharing with the rest of the class. The assignment is part of a “mindfulness exercise” and asks students to be more aware of small details of their everyday life. She directed them to ponder such questions as: “Do you hear the birds differently? What do things smell like? What is your tactile environment indoors or outdoors?”

Faculty members who have been in touch with their students on a personal level can feel like they are “absorbing all their anxiety” and neglecting to focus on their own emotions and mental health needs, said Caroline Gottschalk Druschke, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. With two young children at home and a partner who was just laid off from his job, Gottschalk Druschke said she feels overwhelmed with her family and work obligations. She has insomnia and gets most of her work done around 2 a.m., which is when she noticed many others in academe are also awake and active on Twitter.

“This is awful for everybody. It really is. I’m happy that I’m still employed and my employer is treating me well, but this is tough,” Gottschalk Druschke said. “People are putting in a really, really good-faith effort. I see the faculty around me, graduate students around me, really supporting each other and challenging each other to do better -- which means doing less.”

Aside from sharing thoughts and emotions with others, simple and fun interactions through social media and videoconferencing can also be meaningful for students, said Emily Lustig, a member of the advisory board for the Support Network, a peer support and advocacy organization for student mental health, which has chapters at seven major universities.

The networks have smaller groups that typically met in person on campus weekly, where members can talk about their mental health struggles, well-being or just “be heard,” Lustig said. Some students have continued these meetings virtually, while others have sustained the support system in more informal ways, such as virtual game nights and Netflix viewing parties, she said.

“Already having a foundation in place for understanding peer support, already having a weekly group, a groove with a group leader, figuring out how to share what’s going on in your life and learning how to listen to others is really important at this time,” Lustig said. “There’s a lot less trust building involved, and the structure for how it works implicitly is already in place.”

The Wolverine Support Network at the University of Michigan has held meetings to guide its group leaders for discussions with members about COVID-19-related anxiety, self-care and healthy family or roommate relationships for students in quarantine at their homes, said Hannah Connors, executive director of the network and a senior at Michigan. It was challenging to balance leading the support network on top of the “emotional pain, loss and confusion” that she was experiencing as a student, but Connors said she has been able to adjust over the last two weeks.

“People need support right now more than ever,” Connors said. “They need ways to connect with others and need community. We’ve found a way to make the best of this situation.”

But the peer-support networks are meant for listening and empathy, not for providing counseling services or advice, Lustig said. Demand for mental health services has not decreased at some colleges even though students aren't on campus. During a webinar on telehealth hosted by the American College Health Association last Friday, Jun Mitsumoto, associate medical director for primary care at New York University’s Student Health Center, described the significant level of need at his institution. He said of 952 telehealth appointments held on March 19, two-thirds were for mental health counseling.

College presidents are greatly concerned about the emotional impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on students and employees, according to an Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research survey of 172 presidents published last week. Ninety-two percent of responding presidents said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the mental health of students amid the pandemic, while 88 percent said the same of employee mental health. Nearly all student affairs officials surveyed by Inside Higher Ed before the virus made its way to the United States said they “have paid a significant amount of attention” in the last year to student mental health.

Many colleges and universities are looking to telehealth options to continue or initiate student appointments with counseling center therapists via telephone, or through online platforms such as Zoom for Healthcare and Doxy.me, which are popular with institutions that allow clinicians to meet virtually with patients, Riba said. For students with already-existing mental illnesses who have been using services, it’s important that they maintain their “supportive therapeutic relationship” with the same clinician they met with before the pandemic, Riba said.

“That would be the recommendation, but schools have to work with what they have,” Riba said. “I imagine it’s a little bit more infrequent, but people are trying their best and will check in by phone, even if it’s brief. Hopefully it’s a consistent basis of checking in and making sure that students are supported from afar.”

Videoconferencing platforms for counseling service delivery are “not easy to set up quickly from scratch,” Peter LeViness, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Richmond and board member of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, or AUCCCD, said in an email. According to the most recent survey of 571 counseling center directors, conducted by the AUCCCD in 2018, well before the coronavirus pandemic, only 11.3 percent conducted telephone counseling sessions, and 3.5 percent used video sessions.

In addition to implementing and training counseling center staff to use new technology and ensuring university malpractice insurance covers telehealth services, counseling centers also must wait for several state medical licensing boards to temporarily suspend requirements that prevent them from practicing over state lines, as many students who need appointments are out of state, LeViness wrote. He said the AUCCCD is asking federal legislators to step in.

“AUCCCD along with other national mental health-related organizations have requested the federal government to pass national legislation that would temporarily allow licensed mental health professionals to continue to provide therapy to students who are now residing in other states.”

Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has asked states to relax these licensure laws, Mei Wa Kwong, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy, said during the ACHA webinar. The department’s Office for Civil Rights will temporarily waive penalties related to practicing telehealth that would normally violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which protects patient health information, said a notice from HHS.

Telehealth models are “imperfect,” but “better than nothing,” said Lustig of the Support Network. The network’s board has debated the effectiveness of virtual counseling sessions and is still going back and forth about it, she said.

“The response right now is, truly, this is our only option,” Lustig said.

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Student parents are hit doubly hard by coronavirus

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00

This has been a nerve-racking time for Chelsea Callender.

The 22-year-old junior at Bowie State University in Maryland had to switch her 3-year-old daughter from a childcare center to an in-home daycare last week, after the childcare center closed down due to concerns around the coronavirus. She was in the process of moving from one job to another when her old job shut down and left her without her last week of pay. The job she was planning to move to -- teaching children how to swim -- is also now shut down due to the coronavirus.

She's now relying on a second, part-time job teaching children about art. Her job hasn't yet been shut down but is giving out fewer hours because people are canceling appointments.

Meanwhile, Callender had been planning to take classes in the summer after taking this semester off to work through financial aid issues and work extra hours. She needs to turn in a financial aid appeal in May and doesn't know whether someone will be there to approve it.

On top of all of that, Callender is asthmatic, so she's worried about catching the coronavirus and becoming sick with COVID-19.

Callender isn't unique in all of this. About one-quarter of today's college students are also parents, and they've been hit with a double whammy by this pandemic.

"They were already vulnerable to begin with," said Lindsey Reichlin Cruse, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Their economic insecurity was already pretty stark."

About nine in 10 single mothers live in poverty or with low incomes, according to Reichlin Cruse. Not only are they possibly losing their jobs in the economic crisis, they're also losing their childcare and community or college resources. And they're being asked to suddenly take courses online while also helping their children learn online.

The uncertainty of what will happen in the long term is one of the scariest things for student parents, said Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder and CEO of Generation Hope, a nonprofit organization in the D.C. metro area that focuses on college completion and success for student parents and their children.

"When campuses open back up, what will that look like? Will things return to normal?" she said. "Are we going to lose some students in the course of transition to online learning because of the lack of technology and childcare?"

Students in Generation Hope's program often deal with several issues at once, from work and childcare to housing and food insecurity, domestic violence situations and mental health problems.

"The coronavirus is now a crisis on top of so many other challenges," Lewis said.

At Montgomery College, in Maryland, faculty and staff members are taking several steps to support vulnerable students, including those who are parents, said DeRionne Pollard, president of the college.

The college has dedicated $550,000 from its operating funds and philanthropy to provide emergency support to students, as the requests for aid increase, Pollard said. Students who need it are also getting stipends to secure access to technology -- whether that's buying a laptop or getting Wi-Fi -- so they can continue taking classes online.

Another priority is information, Pollard said.

"In a crisis, many people don't know how to get access to the things that they need," she said. "They simply are trying to get through the day to day."

So Montgomery is taking on the role of information provider by compiling materials on its website, including a special section for student parents about how to take care of their children during this time.

The college is also planning for the future. Every day, there's a task-force meeting, Pollard said. Currently, they're looking at what to do for the summer and fall sessions. The first of the college's two summer sessions will just be online.

"It would be really foolhardy for us to say, 'Oh, we're going to be done with this in May,'" she said.

Staff are also putting in time with faculty to help them understand what resources there are for students, as well as asking instructional developers to work with them on teaching online.

Trinity Washington University is seeing some of the same issues with its students, especially with the need for access to computers, according to Patricia McGuire, president of the university.

"Right now, it feels like a snowstorm where people are staying [home]," McGuire said. "My feeling is that next week, demand will go up."

The main goal right now is to try to keep stress levels low, she said. To help students succeed, Trinity might need to elongate the semester, use pass/fail options or let student take incompletes with no penalty.

"Academically, while we want to focus on still having quality and rigor, we want to be as flexible as possible so that no one is penalized because of this extremely bizarre situation," McGuire said.

Cuyamaca College, a two-year college in the San Diego area, is just returning from spring break and trying to assess what students need, according to Sheryl Ashley, the CalWORKS program coordinator for the college.

All the students in the CalWORKS program are low-income parents who receive services from the county in exchange for meeting required participation hours, either through working or going to school.

College staff know these students will likely need help getting computers and internet access to continue their courses online, and Ashley hopes the county will provide that. Her staff of six counselors is surveying and calling the 400 or so students in the program to determine their other needs.

While the college is loosening some requirements and penalties, students still have to comply with financial aid requirements. They also have to turn in their required participation hours to the county, which they used to submit to Ashley's office and now have to do at home while also taking care of their children and dealing with financial losses.

"I'm just afraid that we're going to lose students, especially with our population," Ashley said. "This is an added layer of stress on low-income students that they don't need."

Thinking about how all of the pieces of students' lives fit together is what institutions need to be doing, according to Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates.

"We're asking these people to really juggle a lot of things all at once," she said. "The communication that's needed between a student and their institution to support them in this time is critical."

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Roundup: FBI recommendations, funding simulation and a dribbling turtle

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00

It's week 1,000 of the quarantine, which looks like it could stretch to June (aka 10 years from now). We've got a pandemic relief package, overflowing morgues in New York City, people stuck abroad and a major pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine for COVID-19.

We need some palate cleansers.

Here is a turtle playing basketball for all the disappointed March Madness fans. (Personally, I think this is better.)

5 days out of his winter hibernation & Hurricane is getting into his garden lockdown football exercise this morning...he’ll be posting his boxercise routine & tomorrow!
#teacher5aday #exercise #notice pic.twitter.com/xUMGL6h5ya

— Patrick Ottley-O'Connor (@ottleyoconnor) March 26, 2020

The Seattle Times did a roundup of raves (minus the rants) for people helping people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tired of reading coronavirus news? Same. Here's a nice, long break from High Country News about indigenous land and land-grant universities.

Let's get to the news.

The American Council on Education created a simulation to estimate what institutions will get what funds from the $14 billion allocated to higher education in the coronavirus stimulus bill.

Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey is cutting tuition. The cut is temporary and targeted at undergraduates who are not enrolled in a degree program and are taking summer courses.

Remember our story on "Zoombombing"? The FBI weighed in after some Massachusetts schools reported nasty incidents. The agency recommends checking your privacy settings, sending meeting information to participants only and using the updated version of Zoom.

Students at Virginia Commonwealth University are upset. They found out the university was packing up and moving their belongings out of residence halls through a viral video. The institution apologized for not communicating the decision to clear the space so it can be used to house coronavirus patients if the nearby hospital overflows.

Here’s a quick roundup of our latest stories, in case you’ve fallen a bit behind (we don’t blame you):

Scott Jaschik wrote about a survey that indicates trouble for admissions in the months ahead.

It's a bad time for anyone to start a career. But for researchers, who usually need labs to work, this is an unprecedented time, Elizabeth Redden reports.

Scott also has a story on colleges moving to test optional in these turbulent times.

News From Elsewhere

Open Campus created a visualization of where the emergency funds in the relief bill may go in higher education.

Not all colleges are refunding students for room and board costs after shutting down their campuses, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote about the fall semester for Forbes.

Percolating Thoughts

This is a time when everyone has an opinion. As journalists, we try not to have opinions, but we've gathered some interesting ones from others.

A former assistant director of admissions at Yale University has some advice for high schoolers worried about how to stand out in applications when their extracurriculars are at a standstill.

"Confessions of a Community College Dean" muses about how Zoom may change meeting etiquette.

Now is a time for college presidents to lead and not follow, according to West Virginia University's president in Education Dive.

Have any percolating thoughts or notice any from others? Feel free to send them our way or comment below.

We’ll continue bringing you the news you need in this crazy time. Keep sending us your questions and story ideas. We’ll get through this together.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside Higher Ed - Mar, 03/31/2020 - 00:00
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Chronicle of Higher Education: As Liberty University Reports First Covid-19 Case, Students and Parents Grapple With Conflicting Information

President Jerry Falwell Jr. said it was safe to return to campus. Others called that view “reckless.” Students must decide what to believe.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Covid-19: The Crisis That Launched 1,000 Student Surveys

As college leaders fret about the pandemic’s impact on enrollments, a flurry of findings suggests what prospective students are thinking. But is this data useful?

Chronicle of Higher Education: 10 Tips to Support Students in a Stressful Shift to Online Learning

As professors become colleges’ primary or even sole point of contact for many students, the faculty role in meeting students’ emotional needs will matter more than ever.

COVID-19 “tsunami” forces UK ELT closures

The PIE News - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 07:05

A new casualty of coronavirus is English Studio – with schools in Dublin and London – which has appointed provisional liquidators following a “tsunami of effects” related to the coronavirus pandemic.

English language school BLC in Bristol has also become a victim of the virus, English UK has confirmed.

English Studio was owned by Ireland-based Kinlay Group, which also owned and operated travel firm USIT Ireland – which is also going into administration.

“We have working tirelessly for the last few weeks to find a solution to save these businesses”

“Only a short few weeks ago, both USIT and the English School were trading well and we had exciting plans for the future, but the tsunami of effects related to the Covid-19 pandemic have left us with no business whatsoever and no possibility of overcoming these challenges,” David Andrews, chairman of Kinlay Group, said in a statement.

The English Studio in Ireland had closed two weeks ago, complying with measures introduced to stem the spread of coronavirus, and its UK school closed on Friday 20 March.

Earlier this month, BLC – based in Bristol in the south west of England – moved all of its classes online, before also ceasing trading.

A third business owned by Kinlay Group – Teach & Travel Group – which provides online TEFL training, continues to trade normally and is unaffected by the decision, the group added.

“We have working tirelessly for the last few weeks to find a solution to save these businesses and in that regard I wish to acknowledge the support of our bankers, Ulster Bank Limited,” Andrews added.

“I and my fellow directors greatly regret having to take this step, but unfortunately, it was the only possible option at this time. We are committed to working closely with the liquidator now in order to get the best possible outcome for employees and customers.”

RTÉ reported that the collapse was caused by a cash flow crisis leaving the companies insolvent and unable to pay debts. Pre-booked customers are owed around €1.2m, it said, which includes approximately 3,000 students who paid deposits of €300 or more for travel to the US this summer.

English Studio managing director, James Birrell, said the “inability to trade or operate over an undefined period and irreparable damage to the junior summer schools as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic were of overwhelming financial impact to the organisation”.

Together with language school associations, English UK and MEI, management will “facilitate the continued learning of students currently enrolled at the schools via emergency student support schemes”, he added.

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Slower growth in China TNE as focus shifts to “quality over quantity”

The PIE News - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 06:52

The Chinese Ministry of Education approved 44 Sino-foreign cooperative ventures in the latter half of 2019 according to documents released this month, bringing the total number of programs approved last year up to 74.

The number of students in China taking transnational education courses – usually involving foreign universities offering full degree programs through local partner institutions, although there are several joint venture campuses – has been increasing over the last few years, particularly among undergraduates.  In the 2018/19 academic year, 78,175 students were on TNE courses, up from 49,680 in 2013/14.

““People are…really focusing on quality delivery and not on building new partnerships”

“I think one of the attractions is that the way we provide programs and the way we study is very different to China,” explained Vincenzo Raimo, pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading, which has a long-standing relationship with Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology.

“Students and parents believe that this will give them an edge in the job market because not only at the end of these degree programs do students have excellent English, but they will have also developed a different skill set to students following a standard Chinese program,” he added.

According to Raimo, TNE programs are often born out of existing relationships between universities and also benefit staff by giving them the opportunity to learn about different models and ways of working.

TNE partners come from a wide range of countries, from nearby South Korea and Russia to the US, UK, Australia and the Netherlands.

The British Council has noted a “substantially” slower growth in new programs compared to before 2014, which it says is “a result of the Chinese government becoming increasingly selective regarding programme approval, with a shifting focus to quality over quantity”.

“TNE is actually something which the government has an opinion regarding where they want to take things. For them, TNE is actually about boosting local capacity and increasing the quality of teaching in China,” Jazreel Goh, director of education marketing at the British Council, told The PIE News from Malaysia.

“People are… really focusing on quality delivery and not on building new partnerships. If you already have two or three partnerships in China, it’s very difficult for you to then say you want to have more.

“What the government wants to make sure is it’s about quality and that you have the resources to concentrate on your current provision,” Goh added.

At a conference in 2019, the British Council referred to “mismatched marriages” in TNE in China where the foreign partner university ranks significantly higher on the THE ranking than its counterpart.

In 2018, for example, Australian universities in the 1-200 bracket didn’t partner with any universities higher ranked than the 601-800 bracket.

China is the top destination for many universities when it comes to TNE, having overtaken Malaysia several years ago.

However, as fields like student recruitment try to move away from over-dependence on China, Eduardo Ramos, head of TNE at UUKi, said this is less of an issue in the sector in countries like the UK.

“What the government wants to make sure is…[that] you have the resources to concentrate on your current provision”

“Where you have 11-12% [Chinese market share] in TNE, you have double that in international students from China coming to the UK. If you don’t include the EU as well, it comes to over 30%  now,” he said.

“From a systemic perspective, we have a very strong relationship as a sector with China as a TNE partner. But it is not a complete dependency and we actually have a quite diversified landscape.”

Other countries that have expressed interest in developing more TNE partners include Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma), who have seen their markets grow by 244%, 87.5% and 55% since 2013/14 respectively.

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Canada: CIBT completes $30.3m land deal

The PIE News - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 02:21

Canada-based GEC Oakridge Acquisition has completed a CA$30.3 million deal to acquire land in Vancouver where it plans to build a residence for up to 475 occupants.

The 18 storey GEC®Oakridge residential tower project will be located less than a 10-minutes from the Langara Community College and will have good access to downtown Vancouver via subway – an area with many education providers for international students.

“This new facility will be able to provide additional and much needed rental accommodation”

The development is expected to be completed by 2023, according to the company.

Parent company CIBT Education Group – which owns business and language colleges, student housing properties, recruitment centres and corporate offices at 45 locations in Canada and abroad – said it plans gain development approval within the year.

“Our goal is to obtain full rezoning and development approval within the year 2020 so that construction may start immediately thereafter,” Toby Chu, chairman, president and CEO of CIBT Group said in a statement.

“This new facility will be able to provide additional and much needed rental accommodation to nearly five hundred occupants.”

In total, the development budget for the GEC® Oakridge project is approximately $103 million, he added.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to homestay families bookings being cancelled in Canada, causing distress to families and students.

“Understandably, many homestay parents are cancelling reservations from students due to health concerns,” Chu added. “However, such action is causing further stress for students looking for a place to live when Metro Vancouver’s vacancy rate is at 1%.”

GEC® facilities are occupied, with some near full capacity, according to the company.

“We will continue to closely monitor the development of the epidemic and assess its impact on our operations, taking all reasonable steps to maintain a safe, clean and healthy environment for our students to study and live and our staff to work,” Chu noted.

Chu added that tuition revenue from CIBT schools – which include Vancouver International College, CIBT School of Business, Sprott Shaw Language College and Sprott Shaw College – will “likely be deferred but not cancelled” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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ELT: virtual internships program launched

The PIE News - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 01:27

ELT provider British Study Centres and international internship provider Professionals UK have announced a new Virtual Internship program for students seeking to enhance their careers while learning English.

The online program aims to offer students valuable work skills and practical experience, while also enhance their business English.

“Given the current global climate and situation, virtual programs have never been more relevant, both for delivering learning and for developing highly in-demand career skills,” Bella Cranmore, Business Development director at Professionals UK said.

“We know that this program fits right in with the needs and expectations of the 21st century student”

The program includes one-to-one online English lessons, a virtual internship in the UK, online coaching sessions as well as access to an online learning platform to develop practical 21st-century skills.

“We know that this program fits right in with the needs and expectations of the 21st-century student, helping them develop their English, their employability and the skills they need to succeed in life,” Global Academic director at British Study Centres Siân Hanson added.

A £5 donation per students also goes to the World Land Trust’s Plant a Tree program to “amplify the reduced carbon footprint of virtual internships”.

Developers say the program is “well placed to address travel restrictions and health concerns”, given the current uncertainty with the COVID-19 situation.

Offering training without added travel and accommodation expenses, the course focuses on Digital Marketing and will rapidly expand into other areas such as graphic design, IT development, finance and business administration.

The program is available on a part-time basis, giving students the flexibility to fit the internship around existing studies or commitments while saving on overseas travel and living expenses, the organisations added.

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"Nonessential" research has halted on many campuses

Inside Higher Ed - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 00:00

Empty classrooms are a defining feature of the coronavirus crisis on college campuses. Empty research labs are another.

Many major research universities have halted all but essential research in what amounts to an unprecedented stoppage of academic science in modern memory. Among the universities that have shut down all nonessential research operations are Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Yale Universities, as well as the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania, among others.

Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, a national organization focused on graduate education and research, said universities appear to be converging on a set of agreed-upon practices for research during the public health crisis.

“Those practices really involve trying to minimize social interaction but maintain what are called essential research functions,” such as certain experiments involving animals and ongoing clinical trials, she said. "There may be other examples of research that's deemed essential, but it appears that the practice is for campuses to evaluate those on a case-by-case basis and even for those that are deemed essential to try to minimize the number of individuals who are tending to the animals or caring for the experiments."

Some have questioned the wisdom of the shutdowns.

"Social distancing is crucial. But do we really need to shut down research labs? For some postdocs/young PIs [principal investigators] this could be catastrophic," Jonathan Kipnis, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, wrote on Twitter March 17. "Biomedical research isn’t ‘dispensable’ and there are alternative measures. Wearing protective gear? Dividing lab into non-overlapping ‘shifts’?"

Kipnis, who declined a request for an interview, subsequently asked in a second tweet what would happen if the shutdowns lasted for a year.

"Can you look in the eyes of all your trainees/staff and promise them that after a year of inactivity you can still fully pay their salary?" he asked.

The original tweet by Kipnis garnered 191 responses, many from people arguing that yes, the shutdowns are essential not just for the safety of researchers but also for that of others.

“I am one of these young PIs, and I am admittedly terrified about the consequences to my research program … but my research is NOT more important than protecting my community,” wrote Melissa Kane, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infection Diseases at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Kane, who studies immune responses to viral infections, said in an interview that she has frozen all the cell lines she can and regularly goes to her lab to attend to the lab’s mouse colony. An undergraduate research assistant has gone home for the semester, and her lab's two research technicians are working from home, though she said there isn’t a lot of work they can do from there.

“It took me months and months to get the lab set up, and I’m now looking at the possibility of redoing that, which is really scary with a small staff in particular,” Kane said. “It’s going to be a lot harder for junior people to get back up and running. On the other hand, a lot of other people are in that boat so I also feel rather fortunate that I study immunity to viral infections. Not this type of virus [the coronavirus] -- I study retroviruses like HIV -- but it’s something I don’t see interest waning in in the future, to be honest.”

The financial cost of halting research is another concern for junior lead investigators like Kane.

"I’m paying my technicians right now, and they are not working," she said. "But again, I actually didn’t find that choice all that difficult to make in the long run. I just think it’s 100 percent the right thing to do.”

The National Institutes of Health has said it will allow recipients of grants to charge for costs related to payment of salaries and benefits during periods in which research is not performed due to COVID-19 as long as the grantee’s institution allows such payments. The National Science Foundation similarly announced this week that recipients of grants “are authorized to continue to charge salaries, stipends, and benefits to currently active NSF awards consistent with the recipients’ policy of paying salaries (under unexpected or extraordinary circumstances) from all funding sources, Federal and non-Federal.”

However, the funding agency noted, “Recipients must not assume that supplemental funding will be available should the charging of such costs or other fees result in a shortage of funds to eventually carry out the project.”

Four major higher education associations -- the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the American Council on Education -- sent a March 19 letter to congressional leaders asking for supplemental funding for research in the stimulus bill. The stimulus bill, which was signed by President Trump on Friday, included additional funding for COVID-19 related research, but did not include money associations had requested to help with costs related to shutting down and restarting labs. The associations noted a number of areas where COVID-19 is likely to cause unanticipated costs, including in relation to costs associated with salaries and benefits for graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, principal investigators and other research personnel whose salaries are funded by federal grants, as well as unanticipated costs associated with ramping down and ramping back up research.

Such ramp-down and ramp-up costs, the groups wrote, could include things such as loss or destruction of biological samples, disposal of hazardous materials, the care or replacement of animal subjects, and “restarting experiments that could not be completed due to the closure of research facilities, inability of personnel to interact in the field, or missed seasonal opportunities such as plant or animal life cycles.”

Sunny Shin, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said that with new experiments suspended, her lab had to euthanize about 200 mice, more than three-quarters of her lab's colony. "We kept the minimum number of mice necessary to keep mouse lines going, as my lab has about 24 different transgenic and knockout mouse lines," said Shin, who studies immune responses to bacterial pathogens. "I estimate that this will set my lab’s research back at least six months, if not more, as we don’t know when we’ll be able to go back into our labs again."

Shin said she has a manuscript out for review and submitted for a renewal of an NIH grant, "so this will definitely affect our ability to address reviewers’ concerns," she said. "In addition, I have two senior postdocs who were planning on going on the academic job market, and they both need to do additional mouse experiments for manuscripts that they are preparing and were hoping to submit this spring. So I am very concerned that this will affect their careers."

Shin is holding virtual lab meetings with her postdocs and graduate students and trying to keep them engaged.

"I think it’s really important for the research to continue even from home," she said. "Things like data analysis, writing papers or literature reviews, reading research papers. I have a student who’s starting to write her dissertation. There’s a lot of work that can still be done from home."

She said the graduate students who work in her lab are "worried about the health of each other and their friends here in Philadelphia, and they’re concerned about how this is going to affect their research and their timelines. Some of them are senior graduate students who are in years four and five. During a time when they should be most productive in terms of doing lab work to make their way towards graduation, for some of them, this is obviously a setback. I've been trying to reassure them that having this time to read and think about their projects can be productive, too, that they shouldn’t worry about that too much.

"I’m trying to keep very positive and try to reassure everyone that obviously the health of our lab and our community is the more important thing," she added. "That’s more important than any kind of lab shutdown."

Sara Sawyer, a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is keeping open a line of activity at her lab that is focused on COVID-19 diagnostic testing. But she shut down the other areas of her lab, which focus on zoonosis -- the process by which viruses that typically infect animals jump to humans -- and studies other pathogens that haven’t yet made similar jumps.

Sawyer's lab is now operating with a skeleton crew as researchers focus all their work on the COVID-19 diagnostic testing. She said college administrators have had to make high-stakes decisions about shutting down laboratory work quickly with little precedent to guide their decisions.

"For those of us who work in tissue culture, we can freeze our materials and come back to them in two months, but you can’t freeze that mouse stock that you spent the last two years making," she said. "There’s only one way to propagate that resource, and that’s to take care of those animals and let them reproduce. Universities are having to make split-second decisions with very little history of experience in making such decisions. It's a slippery slope, too. If one lab gets to stay open or have a few people go in because they have animal research, what about the fruit fly lab? Does that count? You could go on and on just brainstorming the very complicated decisions that administrators have to make right now."

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‘It would take something major’ to keep the doors open at Notre Dame de Namur

Inside Higher Ed - Lun, 03/30/2020 - 00:00

Notre Dame de Namur University's interim president said a decision announced last Monday not to admit new students is buying time for university leaders to find a way to keep the university open.

Faculty members are less hopeful. One faculty leader described the decision as a temporary stay of execution.

The unsettled situation demonstrates why it's so difficult to close a college or university. Faculty and staff members resist the idea of giving up on their employer's future -- and their own jobs -- too early. Leaders who want to do right by current students and staff are left with few paths forward and are very often criticized for giving up on the colleges they lead.

Similar situations have unfolded in the past. Hampshire College's leaders tried last year to suspend admissions and seek a merger partner, only for alumni to revolt and force the institution to reverse course. Before that, Sweet Briar College leaders attempted to close the college and wind down operations because of poor enrollment and financial trends but were stopped by outraged alumnae.

Both situations were marked by acrimony between college leaders and those fighting to maintain the college's independence. Notre Dame de Namur appears to be different -- at least so far. Faculty have called for many of the university's leaders to resign but said in a letter to interim president Dan Carey, "Dan, you can stay."

Under plans announced last week, current students on track to graduate by spring 2021 will do so, and other students are receiving assistance to transfer to another college. Athletics will be suspended at the end of the current semester. The university will refund deposits for already-admitted students.

“It would be unethical for the university to accept more students,” Carey said, because the university’s financial situation is grim, and staying open is becoming increasingly difficult.

But Notre Dame de Namur did not announce that it’s closing, and Carey refused to speculate whether and when it may shut its doors. Instead, the university is holding out for a solution and stretching what little resources it does have to graduate as many students as possible in the next year and a half.

“Our goal from the very beginning is to do right by everybody,” Carey said. “Our goal is to serve the students in every way that we can and to get them to graduation, instead of just to give up and say, ‘We’re closing.’”

The small, private, four-year university is not alone. Many similar institutions have been facing declining enrollment and upping their tuition discount rates, leaving little cushion between operating expenses and revenue. The new coronavirus has heightened that financial pressure: room and board refunds will create a temporary budget hole in many cases, students will likely require more financial assistance, and universities with small endowments are watching them shrink in the bear market. Together, the pressures could force many institutions to close in coming years.

Notre Dame de Namur's troubles came before the coronavirus outbreak. Nonetheless, it is worth watching to see how the university's leaders and faculty handle financial crises at a time when the global pandemic is quickly shifting the outlook for higher education.

According to Michael Horn, co-founder of the Christensen Institute, Notre Dame de Namur’s approach in winding down its operations is unique.

“I don’t think I’ve seen something quite like this before, to be totally candid,” Horn said. “My sense is that normally schools, Boards of Trustees come together, make some clear plans, figure out teach-out options and make a clear announcement.”

But then this Friday, after Horn was interviewed, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., followed that format. The college announced that it will close at the end of the spring semester, citing declining enrollment, rising costs and an insufficient endowment.

Carey hopes there’s still time for an intervention. The university is not currently negotiating with any other colleges about a potential merger. That doesn't mean it hasn't explored potential merger options, Carey said. He remains open to the idea.

“We’re buying time to see whether there could be a viable new structure,” Carey said. “What are the odds [of staying open]? I don’t even want to go there. It would take something major.”

In response to a question about rumored merger negotiations between Notre Dame de Namur and the University of San Francisco, USF issued the following statement.

"As two private, not for profit Catholic institutions, among the oldest in California, USF and NDNU had conversations with a goal of serving our students while preserving the legacy of Catholic higher education in the State of California," it said. "After wide-ranging discussions, it became apparent that the current environment did not present a context for a successful relationship. "

Many faculty members at Notre Dame de Namur will not be employed by the spring of 2021. Layoffs are certain, Carey said. How many faculty members will be let go and when such moves will be announced is still undecided.

Faculty are pessimistic.

Vince Fitzgerald, chair of the English department and president of the university's Faculty General Assembly, doesn’t buy in to the university’s optimism.

“The school keeps insisting that we’re staying open, but the pathway we’re on now is the pathway to closure,” Fitzgerald said. “It feels like a temporary stay of execution.”

He estimates that based on the number of returning students, only one-fourth to one-third of the faculty will be retained. The university would not comment on this estimate's accuracy.

Notre Dame de Namur is in negotiations with faculty and staff unions. Carey received a letter from the faculty union SEIU Local 1021 on Wednesday evening. It asks for numerous financial and employment documents and calls for the entire board, the university's chief financial officer and its lawyer to resign.

“We would prefer to do this the easy way, but if NDNU prefers the hard way we can do that too,” wrote Nato Green, campaign coordinator for the faculty union. “These others have to go. Dan, you can stay.”

According to Fitzgerald, the faculty has lost confidence in the board.

“The faculty strongly believes that we need a new board. If the board is not willing to do everything they can to do the heavy lifting to save this institution, then they need to step aside and let other people do it,” he said.

Fitzgerald is hoping to rally for outside help and to forge community partnerships that could keep the institution afloat. The university’s announcement last week could jeopardize those relationships, he said.

“They’ve chosen the pathway where we’ll have no students in May, and that makes it exponentially more difficult to find people who would want to donate to the university,” he said.

Carey is asking for the faculty’s cooperation.

“The bottom line is this,” he said. “If there’s not cooperation, then we might not be able to meet our goal of serving our students.”

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