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Need more budget places as an anti-crisis measure

The higher education system in the Far East has already felt the consequences of a coronavirus attack

Schoolchildren, students and teachers were among the first to change the rhythm of life due to coronavirus restrictions. They went online, waiting for decisions about examinations. Some who study for a fee have to leave universities - it’s hard to pay for education in a crisis. How the Northeastern Federal University in Yakutsk lives during the restrictions, and what measures should be taken to save the education system, said Tuyara Gavrilyeva, doctor of economic sciences, professor and researcher at the NEFU Engineering and Technology Institute.

Need more budget places as an anti-crisis measure

Tuyara Gavrilyeva

Doctor of Economics, Professor, Research Institute of Engineering and Technology, NEFU

When it all started in mid-March, I thought that in two weeks we would be able to return to the audience, but alas. I was lucky that all of my full-time lecture and practical classes ended last semester, and now there is no classroom load. I, as a research professor, remotely advise students, review their graduate qualifications, study with graduate students, and am mainly focused on scientific activity. But for other teachers, the transition to distance learning was a lot of trouble.

Our university is a state university, and we have strictly developed all the requirements: work programs of disciplines, assessment tools, i.e. all subjects are methodologically fully provided. In addition to training materials on paper, each teacher has a prepared package of presentations for his lectures, that is, in many ways we were already ready to go online. Our university uses the Moodle educational platform, on which teachers post their lectures, presentations, and can teach online. When the transition to distance learning began, many of my colleagues were faced with the fact that the Moodle system simply could not cope - it periodically “hung up”.

On the last day before quarantine, a special seminar was held at my institute on working with Internet sites that can be used for training, in addition to Moodle - Zoom and Skype. At the seminar, young teachers shared their experiences with older people, how to create accounts, add presentations during classes, etc. The coordination of the department’s work is now mainly in the WhatsApp group.

With the beginning of self-isolation, most students went home. But soon many were forced to return, because in the places where they live there is no Internet, and it is simply impossible to study remotely. In total, the university has about 19 thousand students; a small number of them are foreigners and representatives of other regions of Russia, but mostly they are residents of Yakutia. The Internet does not completely cover the territory of our region, and only those students who live in the central part of Yakutia can fully study in the current conditions. Also, some students, including foreign students, were unable to leave due to financial problems and border closures. Only Chinese students were lucky; while the epidemic was raging in China, they were safe here, their parents were glad about it. And then, in a short period of time, when it was already over there, but not yet started, the Chinese students left for their homeland.

A small part of the students remained in the hostels until the end of the school year. Despite the restrictions imposed in the city, the introduction of a coronavirus infection could not be avoided. About 80 people fell ill, strict restrictive measures were introduced in the dormitories, hot meals, disinfection and medical care were provided. Fortunately, students are young people who can easily tolerate the disease.

An electronic learning system is a necessity during such a crisis, but it cannot be said that we experience this period painlessly. I think that all universities in Russia faced the same problems: uneven Internet coverage in the regions and imperfect educational platforms. And teachers can not instantly learn how to conduct online classes as high quality as they do in the traditional form.

In addition to problems with the quality of the Internet, there are also features of the teaching of engineering subjects. Practical engineering disciplines require special programs, classes in computer classes, work on objects, all kinds of visualization - something that cannot be transferred online. In addition, already now we are starting to think about how and when the summer practice will take place.

Higher education is also communication, it is work with the audience, it is a constant contact. The teacher, looking into the student’s eyes, sees how much he understands the material. In addition, the educational process requires discipline, which not all students observe in the process of distance learning, as a result of which “tails” accumulate. And the most, in my opinion, the depressing consequence of all this - students lose their motivation. This semester in our university increased the expulsion of students of their own free will.

A sufficiently large number of students study for a fee. Now many are faced with financial difficulties. And if second-year or third-year students in the event of termination of studies can recover next year, then freshmen must certainly pass the session, otherwise they will have to re-enter. And already in the second year there is an opportunity, for example, to move to another faculty.

Young people now understand that they will live and work in a highly competitive environment, and they just need to graduate. So that education does not become an inadmissible luxury for them, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile to create more budget places as an anti-crisis measure, and it is in the magistracy. Due to their shortage, it is impossible to form a group (at least ten people), in which students can study on a paid basis.

The economy of higher education now largely depends on the financial capabilities of the population. Other urgent measures could be taken, for example, to issue targeted subsidies and targeted loans for education, to give universities the opportunity to restructure payments. It is very disappointing when universities lose worthy students because of money, and students cannot take loans because of accumulated debts. If a young man could be guaranteed to get a loan and then give it back within two to three years after receiving a diploma, this would benefit not only the state of higher education, but also the economy as a whole.

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