How universities are grappling with the need to provide education through COVID-19 distancing

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the way we work, and universities are no different.

Australian universities, whose business models are usually reliant on international students, have been particularly heavily impacted. With students now unable to travel to Australia for study, politicians are going as far as to make calls to the federal government to step in and help a number of universities financially, else they face bankruptcy.

For example, Australian education exports to China alone contributed $12.1 billion to the Australian economy. With many Chinese students unable to return to Australia for classes, and many others in Australia facing the need to return to China as the economic climate worsens, the hole left by Chinese students alone to the university bottom line will be significant.

Current students, too, face a significant impact on their studies, with universities moving to online education in an effort to minimise face-to-face teaching and the risk of the virus spreading. Given the size and scale of the operations of many of Australia's universities, facilitating online education is a potential logistical challenge, and it's one that is being solved through the Alibaba Cloud.

"Australia is just one of the many countries currently implementing strict social distancing regulations and we are very aware of its impact on both students and universities around the country. In light of this, Alibaba Cloud wanted to develop an innovative solution to provide ongoing access to educational platforms," Raymond Ma, General Manager, Alibaba Cloud Australia and New Zealand, said.

Working closely with the Council of Australiasian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT), Alibaba Cloud is already working alongside close to 30 universities across Australia and New Zealand to give students access to online learning resources.

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These universities include The University of Sydney, University of South Australia, The University of Adelaide, University of Canberra, and The University of Melbourne.

The solutions deployed by Alibaba Cloud are particularly pertinent to the Chinese community, as it offers a high-speed and highly reliable link between Australia and China. Furthermore, the services can be deployed rapidly, meaning that the disruption to study can be dealt with quickly. "The solution can be deployed within 48 hours, effectively reducing complicated IT processes, offering cost-effectiveness, and easy maintenance for universities and schools," Ma said.

The opportunity looking forward

COVID-19 is placing a unique level of strain on university IT administrators and educators right now, but as some commentators have noted, there is the potential for long term benefit to the way universities provide education going forward.

The heavy weighting that education currently places on face-to-face tutoring seems to have been a technical logistics issue, rather than it being important to the quality of education. Between WhatsApp groups, video conferencing, the ability to record and stream lectures, and other technical solutions, students are able to participate in both individual and group work to the same standards as they can via face-to-face interaction. Running on robust, reliable infrastructure such as the Alibaba Cloud, we should see more educational institutions make remote and online learning accessible to more students, even once the crisis has passed.

The infrastructure that universities are now rolling out will serve them long beyond the passing of COVID-19 as a national health concern, and allow those universities to modernise their processes and educational models. What's important is that they find the right technology partner to provide that infrastructure from the outset. 

For more information on what the Alibaba Cloud offers educational institutions, sign up for the first Digital Alibaba Cloud Day APAC conference.