Pear learning activity 'Student life during and after the COVID-19 pandemic' held online

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A pear learning activity 'Student life during and after the COVID-19 pandemic', organized by the European Student Union and the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia as part of the SIDERAL project - Social and International Dimension of Education and Recognition, was held in an online format.

The programme included the presentation of a study 'Student life during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: European-wide insights', prepared by the University of Zadar in collaboration with the Institute for the Development of Education and the European Student Union. The study was presented by Karin Doolan from the University of Zadar, stressing the pros and cons of distance learning. Among the advantages are: a flexible schedule, autonomy in time-planning, having more time to study, more time to rest, lower costs, the well-being of spending more time with one's family, a healthier diet, less stress. Among the disadvantages are: procrastination, spending all day in front of the screen, a lack of practical instruction, a lack of close interaction with colleagues, a lack of infrastructure and access to study materials, poor internet connection, increased workload, etc.

Also, the focus of the study is on the emotional and mental health of students, as well as on groups of students who drop out due to a transition to online classes. The study is available on the following link.

The SIDERAL project manager Ana Jerković presented the implemented and upcoming activities of the project that aim to connect both national and European inclusion policies in higher education, as well as to facilitate the recognition of prior learning as an instrument of greater inclusion of students from vulnerable and underrepresented groups.

Ninoslav Ščukanec Schmidt, Executive Director of the Institute for The Development of Education and Co-Chair of the BFUG Advisory Group on social dimension, presented the NESET analytical report on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on higher education.

The report outlines the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social dimension of higher education, the short-term impact (the impact on the next academic year) and the medium-term impact (until 2025). Students from vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and face a number of additional challenges. In the short term, there is no longer an equal access to higher education for all groups of students and the chances for dropout have increased. In the medium-term, the pandemic will have a negative impact on fairness and social inclusion in pre-tertiary education, but further research and analysis will be needed to better understand the future impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social dimension of higher education, in particular through collecting, monitoring and analysing trends.

However, despite the negative impact of the pandemic on higher education, it is important to consider the favourable opportunities offered by online learning, as well as positioning the social dimension as a top priority in the post-pandemic recovery of higher education.

Helga Posset from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research presented the Austrian example of responding to the pandemic, giving recommendations for further developing online learning  with a view to making it available to all, as well as evaluating the existing formats for future learning and teaching. It is necessary to develop institutional resilience of higher education and pay attention to dropout rates, mental health of students and possible reduction of exam activities especially when it comes to vulnerable groups of students.

Pegi Pavletić from the European Student Union presented her experiences of online learning at the University of Camerino in Italy. This university had previous experience with remediation of the consequences of the 2016 earthquake, which allowed them a rapid transition to a digital environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. A hybrid-teaching model was applied, especially for STEM students. The university regularly collects feedback from students to ensure they have everything they need to study, and all university staff have had priority in vaccination.

The discussion stressed the need to focus more on the psychological and mental consequences of the pandemic on students, especially due to reduced socializing. Despite a rapid transition to digital learning and teaching in 2020, the pandemic has increased disparities among different student groups in long-term and has significantly reduced their motivation leading to an increased dropout risk.

Two members of the National group for the enhancement of the social dimension of higher education in the Republic of Croatia also participated in pear learning activities.

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