As different regions in China successively announce the start dates of primary and secondary schools, university students still need to stay at home and study online until further notice. Unlike the K-12 stage, the offline reopening of the colleges and universities will result in large-scale cross-provincial population movements, which may impede the prevention and control of the coronavirus at the current stage.
Amid the long school closure, besides fixing the problems occurring in remote learning and thesis defenses, university students are struggling to break through the COVID-19 crisis under the challenges of adjusting the thesis progress, even rewriting the papers, as well as seeking jobs on screen.
Video class to be the most popular remote learning solution chosen by Chinese universities
Majoring in law at the Macau University of Science and Technology, Jiang Dong told JMDedu that most of her courses were live-streamed via Zoom. Still, she will lose three credits this semester if the school continues to close. “One credit for PE class and two for lectures addressed by experts of science and technology, while we haven’t been informed how to make them up, I’m worried about whether it will cause a delay of my graduation.” Said her.
Similarly, Xue Chen, a doctoral student in electrical engineering at the City University of Hong Kong, has been taking classes through Zoom over the past few weeks as well. These days, he has to migrate to offline to catch up his research progress. “The school library and laboratories are available. We are just asked to wear masks.”
At present, few course resources have covered the regions of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, while students in the Mainland can access various products. Different from the free nine-year compulsory education stage that the Chinese government always releases a unified teaching schedule, university teachers can have more choices of remote learning solutions, which will also bring many potential problems.
Zhang Zheyang, a sophomore in computer science at a university in Xi’an, needs to use five apps for daily learning, but sometimes he will miss the attendance check. “The teachers didn’t ask for our opinion but just select, even do not care about whether the platform is stable or easy to use. I can understand, but at least they need to tell us which platform to use so that we can get prepared before the class, you know sometimes the apps will be changed according to the content of different lessons. ” Said him.
When talking about the most commonly used remote learning platforms, Zhang told JMDedu: “Almost like ChaoXingXueXiTong(超星学习通) and the Chinese University MOOC. I prefer the video resources they provided as well because I can get enough knowledge within a fixed period. When teaching offline or via live broadcasting, teachers’ attention is often diverted so that the task for one class sometimes couldn’t be finished even in two or three weeks.”
The two products Zhang mentioned are also introduced by a wide range of university teachers whom JMDedu has interviewed. Previously, to ensure the educational activities can normally proceed across the world, UNESCO advocates distance learning to combat the crisis and provides a list of educational platforms for parents, teachers, and schools. And the Chinese University MOOC, which is jointly launched by NetEase and the Higher Education Press, has been recommended as one of the remote solutions.
“Except Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan regions, the platform has cooperated with more than 1,000 universities nationwide, witnessing a DAU of tens of millions amid the epidemic.” Introduced by Song Weiyan, the head of the Chinese University MOOC. “Icourse is the main station and it is divided into many sections below. The part of massive open online courses platform mentioned by UNESCO just refers to our product.”
Around January 23rd, the team observed an increasing demand by higher education amid the epidemic, and quickly released a service plan in response on January 29th. “Aiming to ensure the user experience, we estimated the usage in which provinces will soar, and have optimized the product’s architecture in advance.” Said him.
For more practice during the prevention and control of the coronavirus outbreak, the website of Peking University Geological Museum has been revised and launched with the support of the university’s computing center, enabling teachers and students to visit the museum online via the official WeChat account. “We can see different showrooms with a lot of cultural relics through the VR model, and interpretations recorded by volunteers are also available.” Said Xu Lu, a student studying history at Peking University.
Students struggling to the delaying graduation and fewer job opportunities
In addition to dealing with the unstable internet connection and “information explosion” caused by many apps, Chinese students are also challenged by the delaying graduation when the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted their research progress.
The efficiency of thesis tutoring will definitely be reduced when conducting online, but this is nothing to speak of when some graduates are having difficulty continuing their researches because of the severe epidemic and the strict quarantine regulations.
Chen Yu, a postgraduate majoring in the urban design of a top university in Chongqing, the southwestern of China, had proceeded one-third of the field research of her dissertation before the winter vacation. “I’m planning to visit more villages during the semester break, but now I need to make some adjustments on my paper.”
Two weeks ago, Chen just completed her pre-defense online, and her advisor said that the investigation could be made up but not later than May. That means her graduation will be delayed at least half a year around December if she cannot finish the thesis on time. “I’ve heard that previously the thesis could be sent for review in August, and students can get the degree one month later, but we are not informed this year.” Said her.
At the beginning of March, the Ministry of Education issued a notice stating that schools and institutions could appropriately prolong the period for students to finish their research affected by the epidemic, as well as add more meetings participated by the dissertation examining committee.
Thus the university in Chongqing did a thorough survey a few days ago, “The thesis defense is supposed to be held in May. However, there are 208 third-year postgraduate students, and 29 of them have difficulty participating, the number of which merely reflects the condition of our major. I guess the university may launch more times of thesis examining, but it’s unknown until we are informed.” Said Chen Yu.
Rong, who is in the same major as Chen Yu at a university in Guangzhou, could be at ease to some extent. “My paper progress may be one month slower than normal, but our university has added two more chances for the thesis examining. If there isn’t a significant mistake in my work, my graduation will be extended no longer than three months.”
As seeing an improving number of imported cases in the past few days, Guangzhou has tightened the measure of epidemic control. Rong told JMDedu: “Nobody is allowed to go back to school, the student affairs assistant even asked if we need her to send us the computer cases which are in the dormitories. Obviously, the library and laboratories are not available as well,” which leads to the difficulty in gathering enough information for proceeding the thesis. As for this aspect, Tsinghua University showed a good case that the library sorted out all the off-campus accesses to the database, providing teachers and students with a recommended list based on stability and whether it is easy to operate.
Unlike those whose majors require only for the methodology such as field research and literature research, many teachers and students specializing in science and engineering have to do related experiments using professional equipment in the school laboratories. Without realizing the standard study approach amid the coronavirus crisis, academic development is negatively affected.
In response to this concern, the Ministry of Education stated on March 31st that senior, postgraduate , and doctoral students should be arranged with high priority to go back to school according to the situation of prevention and control of the outbreak.
But the biggest challenge brought by the epidemic for most students lies in the fewer job opportunities. In China, there is a consensus that the so-called “Gold March Silver April” is a time pivot for graduating students to find ideal jobs. But this year, a large number of companies are forced to reduce headcount and even cancel the recruitment at the graduation season, thereby intensifying the competition that more than 8.74 million graduates are facing.
Although influenced by the unstable Internet connection and delay of reply, “the two-way choice system and a series of on-line interviews co-organized by the government and universities seem to be more efficient. Both candidates and enterprises can save time on a road trip.” Said Chen Yu. But she also has been in trouble: “When the interview moves to online, employers will enhance the screening of resume. I’ve been rejected several times these days but still need to try my best to find a job. You know the condition may become worse due to the economic depression.”
Qiao is one of Chen Yu’s classmates, who is waiting for the official offer from a well-known company. She also concerns about the fairness of getting opportunities. “For students in our major, those who have a better ability to create and design are more competitive. But recently, I’ve seen that many of my classmates who are more capable than me have been eliminated at the round of resume screening, just because their first degrees are not top universities.”
As JMDedu investigated, under normal conditions, employers will go to the university and hold Career Talks, and candidates can take the exam then participate in the interview. “During the past, as long as you take a good grade in the exam, you will have the opportunity to communicate with the employers, but when everything moves online, you will see less possibility.” Said her.