Ostrava University in the Time of Covid: Challenges and Opportunities

Dr. Renáta Tomášková, Vice-Rector for International International Affairs, University of Ostrava

After the abrupt changes in all the walks of university life in March and after months of adjusting university policies to keep to our mission and meet the needs of our students, academics, and staff we have been recently reflecting on the experience to translate it into the new strategic plan, which is now in the making. The challenges we have been facing need to be turned into opportunities: here are some of the points the covid experience has revealed or confirmed as priorities for the next period.

Effective and efficient communication across the university is crucial – we have enhanced the communication strategy and emergency management since the Spring and still need to elaborate on it to make sure important information reaches students and staff fast and safe. The unprecedented importance of email communication during the lockdown periods has brought about more frequent cyber attacks – waves of phishing and malware emails, proving the necessity of cyber security training as part of education.

Online platforms, previously often brushed aside by academics, gradually took over the educational process: whereas the Spring term still relied a lot on emailed assignments and students’ self-study, in the Autumn the teachers have found their feet in virtual classrooms and grown professionally in the use of online teaching tools. The provision of quality online teaching is no easy task and benefits enormously from sharing good practices both within the university and beyond. We highly appreciated online workshops one of our partner universities in Canada prepared for UO academics and we are planning a continuation. Due to their demographic dispersion, certain countries – e.g. Australia or Canada – have been engaged in distance teaching for decades and can offer valuable experiences.

The student survey on online learning we ran in June showed that students embraced online teaching as a smart solution of the coronavirus crisis but not as a fully-fledged substitution of face-to-face classes; many of them would, however, welcome a combination of the two modes. We spearheaded this survey across a consortium of European universities we are part of and the investigation in Spain, Germany, Romania, and Lithuania yielded very similar results. The UO educational strategy will thus build on the covid online experience to design meaningful models of blended learning, integrating face-to-face and online courses into a degree programme, or off-line and online activities into a course.

Even though international mobility has been naturally limited by the pandemic measures, international cooperation has found its ways to thrive: many alliances meet and strategic partnerships are developed online, and are more inspirational than ever, and the concept of internationalisation at home has gained the salience it deserves for the internationalisation of the curriculum and its environmental sustainability.

It was also reassuring to see that 40% of international students stayed in Ostrava in the Spring term in spite of the lockdown, and according to a survey run by the Czech Centre for International Cooperation in Education 40% of Czech students on Erasmus exchange opted for staying abroad – they confirmed afterwards they wouldn’t have changed their decision and most of them would like to have an opportunity of another study abroad stay in the future. The sense of safety that led students’ decisions is a positive message of young generation’s trust in the shared European home.