NAFSA hails resilience of international education staff

Educators from across North America shared their experiences of the last few months at NAFSA’s inaugural virtual panel event, hailing the leadership shown while supporting student communities.

“Staff can help staff in other areas like international student services, who are quite busy with those students”

Sonja Knutson, director of the internationalisation office at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, also praised the resilience of international students themselves and university faculty in adapting to new norms overnight.

She shared examples of how her university had turned bad news into good: “Facing low enrolments in our language programs, we were able to open [these] up to the spouses of graduates that are on our campuses,” she related.

“Around half of the spouses of our students enrolled in our program and that really bumped up the numbers.”

Knutson continued, “We offered it for free, so we’re not generating revenue, but it’s a good news story for the university and for our graduate students.”

As a global travel ban squeezed all certainty from 2020 planning, Mihaela Metianu, executive director of the Center for Global Engagement at Florida Atlantic University, also shared her institution’s swift action to reposition.

Beyond planning for various strategies for returning to teaching in-person in the fall – or not –  she said revised budget considerations had been enacted swiftly.

“[Another] piece of what I consider the short-term planning in a way is budget modelling for the upcoming year,” she related.

“I think we’re all experiencing budget cuts. There’s no secret that we have to plan for a variety of models in terms of what we need to cut due to the revenue losses.

“Thanks to some very good budget managers, we’ve been able to to have a good plan moving forward for the coming year.”

“How to figure out how to really backfill enrolment losses, which we know we will experience”

Figuring out how to best use staff resources was another feat, Metianu indicated.

FAU has been working on “how to use the talents of staff who may not have as much on their plates to help staff in other areas like international student services, who are quite busy with those students, who now respond to every single email and read everything that we send”.

Another area of focus, she related, was on “how to figure out how to really backfill enrolment losses, which we know we will experience, whether it’s in our language programs or degree programs”.

Planning to mitigate a scenario whereby research assistants or those with graduate teaching positions who may not be able to arrive and on board in time for the fall semester is also happening, she related.

Last but not least, Metianu and others spoke to the rapid repositioning to remote teaching and consideration of tech needs for international students.

“In addition to [courses] that are fully online or remote live, we also have courses that are remote live, but there are also recorded and they can be viewed at a different time, in a different time zone,” she explained.

“Our provost’s office is working very diligently with many of our faculty to develop additional courses that are “lecture capture”; we have a lot of them it in business, but not so much in other disciplines, [where the lecture is delivered live and then students can join later, listen and then participate in discussion groups].”

Considering issues of platform compatibility is also imperative.

Metianu reminded, “We’re aware that our different platforms may not be equally accessible across the globe, that the platforms that we’re using have to be accessible in different time zones, but also in different continents and different geopolitical systems.”

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