COVID-19 continuous waves (hits) have presented us with a real challenge and responsibility with the potential to fundamentally reshape our world. Now is the time for public intelligent and intellectual collective discussion about the future of HEIs’ internationalization plan of action in Palestine. This paper is a private invitation for debate, connection, and engagement between the local and international organizations, civil society, educational professionals, as well as learners and stakeholders at all levels.

The job crisis is hitting fresh graduates as we confront a tough employment market, and we cannot return to the world as it was before March 2020. We are heading into a real social crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered one of the worst job crises in Palestine. It is a real danger that the crisis will increase poverty and widen inequalities, with a deep impact for years to come. Therefore, HEIs are forced to do everything to limit this job crisis from turning into an actual social crisis. The answer is reconstructing and embracing a digital paradigm at our institutions, which should orient HEIs’ missions and activities including entrepreneurial, innovative, and digital integration to secure a stable and sustainable resilient labor force for generations to come.

We have seriously arrived at a moment, however unexpectedly, where collectively revisiting the purposes of education and organization of learning has become imperative. There is an essential need to work on collecting good practices for rebuilding a future for our home institutions. Part of it is increasing the awareness and understanding of the risk associated with a global challenge to plan for the future of education at Higher Education in Palestine, adjoined with applied measures that have the nature of job creation for all academic sectors.

The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified many of the long-standing challenges facing HEIs. In recent months, numerous webinars have been shared by a wide range of organizations providing extensive guidance on how to react to the COVID-19 crisis at all educational levels. Their contribution was to share, identify, and focus on the areas where immediate decisions made now, in the short-term, have the greatest potential long-term implications.

Sharing and guiding principles in areas where high-stakes decisions made today will have significant long-term consequences. Therefore, in these moments of crisis and uncertainty, HEIs have to apply the best that we know about internationalization, otherwise, we are at the mercy of the idea-of-the-week or illusory ready-made “solutions”, we need now to decide about what we want to become.

The pandemic has shown many weaknesses and vulnerabilities at HEIs which leads to severe fragmentation and unraveling as we stand to see a decrease in numbers in both teachers and students who may not return to classrooms once the academic year 2020-21 starts. 

The pandemic has forced a massive shift away from learning and teaching in traditional settings with physical interactions and replaced it with technology, particularly digital technology that enables communication, collaboration, and learning across distance. Educators can’t deny that the digital shift is a difficult tool, and it does not solve all our institutional problems, but we can’t deny that it remains a source of innovation and expanded potentials, and it truly brought many existing internationalization best patterns and trends to the surface.

There is a major concern that we already started receiving signs about the current situation in that it can develop into lasting (fixed) reform. We also need to recognize that many parents have concerns and doubts about online teaching performance and measurements as value-added, bridge opportunities with reliable job creation that can contribute to (match) job needs, demands, and foreseen expectations. Therefore, we must work forward to assure and ensure that digitalization does not undermine the role of teaching and education. To defend this claim under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, and to facilitate the levels of trust necessary for global collaboration in mobilizing resources to support online education, there must be a response from all educators, educational institutions, and stakeholders to confirm that education caters and empower the capabilities of learners at Higher Education.

How the Covid-19 pandemic has changed education at HEIs in Palestine? How can we collaborate to assist in building a sustainable post-pandemic society? 

It is a new way of learning. By collaborating with multisector stakeholders working towards sustainable Palestinian Higher Education Partnerships and making the best use of EU and U.S. offered programs. Each institution needs to consider initiating long-standing activities of analysis which involves parents, students, partner universities, employers, and startup agencies to collect information on how to open critical infrastructural dialogue.

The main idea is the promotion of regional and cross-cutting cooperation and the creation of new partnerships. Each institution needs to work on developing joint projects to support developing its definition of key competencies and learning programs and training that cater to a generation of students, scientists, professionals, and entrepreneurs. By sharing and comparing experiences of digital transformation in one think learning and teaching tank, we can explore further challenges and opportunities to identify all kinds of supportive mechanisms, processes, and partnerships that can enhance digital education through COVID in the Palestinian National Authority and beyond.

Hence, we apply basic steps for HEIs to consider navigating through the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath. The main key is upgrading local academic staff competences by engaging them into the creation of internationalization’s scheme in three steps:

  • Developing an institutional ID internationalization scheme.
  • Increasing partnerships.
  • Securing sustainable growth.

The first step is to engage academic staff with an internationalization strategy. Engagement here is defined as discussions or actions that involve academic staff with internationalization strategy, which doesn’t necessarily have to be related to internationalization programs and/or activities that carries this specific title directly. Therefore, to blend academic staff to engaging with internationalization best method is to apply grassroots strategy, a tactic that builds power from academic staff baseline and beyond.

Before conducting the first internationalization strategic session, the academic staff (participants) needs to be exposed to the findings of an exploratory study on academic staff engagement with internationalization and to have further and deeper insight and understanding into the experiences of several different universities that are successfully engaged with best-applied internationalization methods and best practices.

Each institution needs to consider creating a database of experts and trainers/facilitators with a pool of best practices on how to engage academic staff in internationalization, with further insights into the internationalization-related skills and training topics that are most important for academic staff to focus on.

Finding the optimal balance. Rationalize what is happening in terms of internationalization on all levels of the institution vs individual level, with much respect to aspirations for internationalization, resources needed and respecting the culture of the institution in terms of what is possible and desirable.

The institution needs to consider:

  1. Reduction in time/workloads
  2. Mechanisms to recognize participation
  3. Develop more and better communication

Academic staff needs to consider:

  1. Connect with incentives
  2. Engage with training opportunities
  3. Dedicate to human resources developed plan

Each institution can create its approach based on a clear understanding of the institution culture, level of familiarity with the academic staff dynamics, and the timeframe to achieve certain results. from a theoretical approach, the following steps can deliver speedy results:

Stage One  ——————————————–

  • develop clear incentives for participants to secure engagement and involvement in the process;
  • define a clear understanding to commonly used terminologies to set a common ground of understanding;
  • prioritize internationalization scheme from institutional perception and academic staff perspective;

Stage Two ——————————————–

  • establish a common ground of understanding between the institution and academic staff;
  • enable transparent atmosphere to engage academic staff with the foreseen drafted strategy;
  • integrate the future needs, demands, and scope of the labor force scheme into the planning;

Stage Three ———————————————

  • respect the institution culture and main core issues before accrediting the final draft;
  • attend and conduct tailor-made training and developmental courses;
  • refresh the strategic activities from time-to-time to match with the most up-to-date demands;
  • keep active communication and information on dissemination.

Actual example: In Fall 2019 Bethlehem University initiated strengthening the External Academic Relations Office staff capacities in organizing virtual mobility projects and programs, creating a network to facilitate the participation of academic staff in virtual exchange programs that lead to improving the cooperation between universities and society at large. As a result, academic staff started to become key actors in the internationalization of the university, and the university encourages, whenever possible, to strengthen academic staff representation and involvement in a global dialogue. This kind of proactive approach is also a way to bring closer to internationalize and better prepare academic staff to become globally empowered citizens.

Academic staff from Bethlehem University had the chance to share their perspectives from opposite sides, reflecting together on the meaning of “internationalization”, bringing up their respective needs, and this is part of strengthening institutional collaborations, widening networks, sharing and spreading information between Bethlehem University and other universities, making opportunities well known, and start to systematizing procedures.

Virtual exchange is an efficient and effective tool to keep both inbound and outbound academic staff engaged in a globally focused education until we return to some sense of normalcy. There are a lot of opportunities to integrate it now and down the road. Therefore, we must keep up with:

  • virtual mobility of academic staff through the development of joint curricula, courses, and seminars;
  • facilitate and encourage dialogue and mutual exchange of information;
  • create new collaborations and partnerships;
  • develop joint projects alongside organizing international events (workshops, seminars, conferences, performances);
  • encourage better circulation of knowledge and exchange of experiences among researchers and scholars connected to the labor market foreseen needs and developed demands.

Each institution needs to build its capacity and prepare academic staff for the implementation of meaningful virtual exchange experiences for academic staff. Successful, proven models of virtual exchange programs can be integrated into the institution by linking classrooms in different countries and cultural settings. These inaugural programs are highly recommended as they encourage faculty members to adopt and implement virtual exchange models. Through this effort, the faculty members pair together to design a virtual exchange for students at Home University intentionally. Stevens Initiative Connected Classrooms / COIL trainers provide ongoing mentorship to each faculty scholar to ensure quality programming. Links:

ILO-ITC has recently launched the new Online Global Youth Forum 2020, which is a place to discuss strategies to help create jobs for youth by keeping a decent standard of work and then by contributing to set-up a correct society with experts from the United Nations and other international NGOs. This three-weeks Forum will start on 10th August and will end on 28th August 2020.

As we can see, history is being written with great speed and we are faced with choices and decisions that will define the future of our institutions. We do not yet know what the full impact of the pandemic will be on us. However, we do know that the emerging economic crises are leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods. This will have drastic consequences on the ability of youth to advance with their education.

The pandemic has the power to undermine education for years to come, particularly in the most vulnerable communities, regions, and countries such as the Palestinian National Authority. But, we still have the power to stop what could be the most serious disruption of Higher Educational opportunity in a century, where important gains in educational expansion and efforts to achieve educational equity could be erased. Therefore, each institute must coordinate efforts to ensure continuity of learning and protect domestic and international financing. The quest for maintaining a priority for financing and greater international cooperation is to help to ensure the continuation of education in what is likely to be very challenging times, as it comes coupled with a request for greater efficiency and accountability so we can continue to add value to national efforts to advance education for all that is relevant to a changing world.

We have to learn from the feedback that is coming from teachers, students, parents, and employers for in them lies the potential for transforming education during and after the present crisis. Their responses to the pandemic will be different from one university to another, and from one context to another.

The educational response to the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the capacity of educators to draw on their professional knowledge and collaboratively mobilize with resourcefulness and creativity that could not have been achieved by simply issuing top-down orders. In fact, over the last several months, the education sector which is often unfairly critiqued for its conservatism has shown itself to be among the most robust and adaptable of all social institutions. Parents nowadays observe their children’s learning at home with a clearer awareness of the complexity of teachers’ work. This is an important lesson from this crisis and one which should lead us to grant teachers greater autonomy and freedom. Therefore, many parents have begun to acknowledge the importance of a set of educators who have not always been properly appreciated.

Teachers have gone beyond the call of duty. They have responded to learners’ needs with compassion and extra efforts that reinforce the value that parents and communities attach to their actions. All of this underscores the importance of an overarching educational framework of trust and cooperation. Therefore, they need to be more recognized and more highly valued. Teachers are essential participants in defining the futures of education. Today it is clear that nothing can substitute for collaboration between teachers, whose function is not to apply ready-made technologies or pre-prepared didactics but to fully assume their role as knowledge enablers and pedagogic guides.

In conclusion, community-engaged and community-led learning is a key component of education and must be central to any internationalization strategy that addresses present and future challenges. The use of digital technologies for learning has generated interest for many years, and in the context of the COVID-19 crisis interest in mobile learning, technologies have grown exponentially. The forced scramble for materials and platforms that we have seen during the pandemic poses a great risk to the teaching profession and its autonomy and could have serious consequences for the future of education. Therefore, our efforts should focus on educators to develop ownership of our material with open educational resources to avoid being dependent on digital platforms provided by private companies.

References: This paper is the result of the collective webinars I attended on the future of Higher Education, mainly presented by UNIMED SubNetworks on Mobility and Intercultural dialogue, on eLearning and Open Education, on Employability and Institutional Partners as ALF, ESN, ETF, FAO, UfM. Reference: https://www.uni-med.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Report_UW3.pdf . In addition, Anna Lindh Foundation, COIL Lasallian Teachers Network, UNESCO, EAIE, ITC, ILO, OECD, Search for Common Ground, Sharing Perspectives Foundation, Soliya, kiron, Migration Matters, UNICollaboration, Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange and many others.

Shared by: Mahdi Kleibo background is in private sector development, institutional strengthening and capacity building with over twelve years of professional experience that ranges from advanced management to capacity development with Palestinian Micro Small to Medium Enterprises. I started working at Bethlehem University in the year 2012 as a full-time academic business lecturer with the Institute of Hotel Management and Tourism, following year my role enhanced to represent the External Academic Relations as an official coordinator operating under the auspices of the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, later on I became the official European Commission - Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility and Virtual Exchange Mobility Program Coordinator and Facilitator. My role is specifically designed to engage my Home University with other institutions’ internationalization strategies and activities, channel the experiences of several different European universities that are committed to advancing quality training in internationalization for academics, staff, and students with interests in internationalization agendas and activities, within higher education institutions. On the side, I work with several local and international partners from the private, public, and governmental sectors on freelance training and consultancy basis. Personal strengths include but not limited to applying synergy, globalization, internationalization, modernization, individualization, entrepreneurship, institutionalization, and drafting strategic plans.