The Resilience of Higher Education Institutions During COVID-19: Lessons from Malawi, Philippines, and Senegal
As COVID-19 continues to spread, higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world must continually adapt to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic not only on student learning, but also on the important role these institutions play in education and workforce training, advancing research, and strengthening networks and communities. COVID-19 has thrust higher education into the spotlight as a critical actor in responding to the impacts of the virus.
The Higher Education Response to COVID-19 Landscape Map, developed by interns through the Virtual Student Federal Service and Payne Fellowship programs, was an effort to review actions taken by higher education (HE) systems and HEIs in 24 USAID partner countries to respond to the COVID-19 crisis at a specific point in time. Specifically, the landscape map explored the resiliency of HE systems and HEIs in four areas: continuity of learning, research and innovation, community engagement, and communications strategy.
Want to learn more about the landscape map?Read the Blog Post
The interns also developed three case studies to provide a more in-depth illustration of the four focus areas in the landscape map. Below we highlight key lessons highlighted by the case studies.
Leveraging the University of Philippines System for Community Support
This case study explored the conditions that led to the University of the Philippines’ (UP) strong crisis-response across its large system of eight universities and 17 campuses that serve over 60,000 students. The analysis found that UP has been able to successfully develop a system-wide virtual learning platform that connects and engages students online
The lessons learned from this effort highlighted the importance of:
- Integrating alternative learning methods into routine instructional design. This not only creates opportunities for learners in crisis-free learning environments, but also improves the institution’s ability to adapt to unforeseen shocks. The UP system’s transition to long-term distance learning was smoother because it was already using Internet-based platforms to supplement traditional in-class instruction that could be built on.
- Drawing from local expertise and established resource networks to incorporate more low-cost solutions. For example, UP Manila created a COVID-19 test kit using local supply chains and expertise from the university, eliminating the need for the Philippines to depend on foreign-sourced test kits.
- Ensuring coordination of efforts between different actors within an education system (governments, private and public education institutions, students, faculty, staff, research institutions, and community organizations). The crisis also emphasizes the importance of consistent messaging within and across the various actors and the need to work together to support the physical safety and social-emotional well-being of students, faculty, and staff.
Engaging University Students to Improve the COVID-19 Response in Senegal
This case study highlights how students from a consortium of eight public universities in Senegal came together to support COVID-19 response through the organization 100,000 Students Against COVID-19. Applying a positive youth development approach, the initiative offered opportunities for increased youth contribution and agency to address the crisis. Youth engaged in activities like community surveillance, raising awareness of risks associated with the virus, and in innovations such as inventing a robot for use in local hospitals to conduct patient-related tasks without needing doctors to enter the room. The case study highlighted two lessons:
- Youth can be changemakers and invaluable assets to the success of a locally-led community response to a crisis.
- The importance of active communication and engagement with educators, communities, and other stakeholders to understand local needs, generate buy-in for decisions, and build trust within communities.
Malawian Higher Education and Local Solutions in Crisis Response
This case study highlights the important role partnerships play in strengthening research and innovation capacity within HEIs, especially during crises, and outlines the broad societal benefits of this increased capacity. Ongoing capacity strengthening efforts with HEIs in Malawi through the Innovation Scholars Program (ISP) and the Innovation Garage, launched by the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), have been promoting ownership and innovative solutions to address local development challenges. As the pandemic unfolded, the Innovation Garage was able to switch its focus to supporting two crisis response innovations: a mobile solar-powered sanitation station and a COVID-19 tracking platform. Three lessons emerged:
- Higher education partnerships and reform investments focused on key audiences like faculty and administrators can produce spillover effects, such as those the ISP experienced during the pandemic. These capacity strengthening investments, coupled with the promotion of a culture of innovation and adaptation before the pandemic facilitated the institutions’ effective pandemic response, ultimately benefiting the broader community.
- Encouraging innovation to serve local development needs and including key beneficiaries in the activity design stage can build local ownership and ensure relevance to local issues. This type of approach helped create a space for local innovators to acquire the expertise and resources to quickly turn ideas into prototypes aimed at helping their communities fight the virus.
- The effectiveness and timeliness of an HEI’s response to crises such as COVID-19 is influenced by the leadership capacity and structures within the HEI’s institutions. This might include elements like the existence of crisis protocols, administrative policies that allow for adaptation and efficient decision-making, and the extent to which staff and faculty feel supported and engaged as the situation and the response evolves.
The landscape map and the associated case studies discussed in this blog post demonstrate the potential of HEIs to serve as central actors in crisis response and in locally-led development, reinforcing the need to continue to build robust and resilient HE systems that can withstand unforeseen shocks such as the COVID-19 long-term crisis.
The Center for Education values the work of the interns who worked on this project and their contributions to advancing USAID’s work. Learn more about future VSFS internship opportunities here.