Prof. Dr. Hosam Refai, Vice President for Community Service and Environmental Development at the Helwan University in Cairo (Egypt)
Like most universities around the globe, Helwan University and all other universities in Egypt switched to online classes from 15th of March until now. The switch came rather abrupt and most universities were not prepared for this dramatic 100 per cent shift to distance learning. Like other universities too, HU started using different platforms like Zoom, Skype, WebEx, Google Classroom and other applications to connect to students and arrange virtual classrooms. Surprisingly, the shift went rather smooth and quite successful so that the academic content of most modules was delivered in a satisfactory manner. Practical parts of the modules were postponed to when the students could return to the university campus.
As for the international cooperation, the effect was not so positive. All Erasmus+ projects came to a de facto standstill, all travels were cancelled, all activities came to a halt and only minor desk-based activities could be continued. Students who were supposed to travel for an abroad semester in joint study programs had to cancel their travels. These semesters will have to be postponed to the next winter or summer semesters. All staff mobility travels were postponed as well. The uncertainty about when all these activities can be resumed adds additional burden on all parties involved.
Within all these negative effects of the Covid-19 epidemic, there are still some positive developments. Perhaps the most important is the forced shift to online education that has opened new horizons within higher education and has revealed hitherto unused opportunities and capacities that I think will have a long-lasting effect on academia in the future.
I anticipate that all universities will work hard to update their digital infrastructure and online teaching capabilities, not only to be better prepared for similar situations in the future, but rather to make use of these technical possibilities in enhancing and enriching regular academic lecturing. I can also foresee an increase in online programs and online academic events, even online scientific conferences and other activities.
I hope of course that this crisis will be mastered soon and will not affect the new academic year. The online phase has been a good experience and an eye-opener for most, but will and should never be a general alternative for the normal physical classroom.