20 April 2020 | Story Cornelius Hagenmeier
Cornelius Hagenmeier
Cornelius Hagenmeier is the Director: Office for International Affairs at the UFS

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as an unexpected threat to the internationalisation of higher education. With the rapidly growing infection and deaths globally as well as local transmission in South Africa, much of the ramifications of the virus impact profoundly on student and staff mobility. The outbreak in South Africa has resulted in the UFS suspending its in-class academic programme; cancelling graduation ceremonies, open days, and official events; and temporarily closing its residences. Besides, a moratorium has been placed on international travel, and local travel is discouraged.

The impact on the internationalisation of higher education extends far beyond the fate of international students being affected by the closure of residences. Conference cancellations, the moratorium on international travel, and the sudden departure of research students disturb laboratory-based and human subject research and adversely impact the overall knowledge production.

Internationalisation in an uncertain environment

It is impossible at this stage to forecast the long-term impact of the virus threat to academic mobility. It is already clear that the pandemic will give additional impetus towards rethinking internationalisation in an increasingly uncertain environment. Universities need to proactively engage with the need to prepare students for a globalized world of work and to advance research with less available options for physical mobility. The immediate challenge is not to lose focus on the need to stay globally connected

while managing the higher-education crisis caused by COVID-19.

In addition to taking immediate steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is necessary to find sustainable alternatives to mobility, such as virtual exchanges, webinars, and virtual conferences. Higher education needs to proactively engage with the challenge posed by the novel coronavirus and stay globally connected in a world where less physical mobility options are available.


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