By Francisco de Borja Martin, International Relations Director, Universidad Loyola Andalucía
and Ignacio Garrido, Project Manager for Jesuit Networks
The Corona Virus is affecting higher education institutions, as it is disrupting government, economies, and societies worldwide. Although the pandemic is at different stages in every country, the virus is challenging Jesuit universities in various ways. It’s calling off conferences, closing our campuses, forcing universities to reinvent themselves to deliver content virtually to their students and much more.
In the region of Andalucía, Spain, Universidad Loyola, following the commands of the national government, closed its campus on the 16th of March. Although this measure affected the paradigm in which the university works, it was able to adapt effectively and efficiently. The same day the campus closed, without missing any class hours, all the teaching transitioned to a “virtual face-to-face” model allowing students to attend their classes remotely. Maintaining high-quality education standards has been at the core of this pedagogical transition. The student affairs offices, that play such an important role in the care of the whole person, have also found creative paths to connect with students and accompany them in these times of uncertainty and change.
The international dimensions of universities are suffering especially with this global crisis. Faculties and staff have been asked not to travel to affected countries or to avoid totally any kind of travel and study abroad programs have been canceled. An especially vulnerable group is the international students who were studying abroad and have been unable to return home. They are exposed to greater uncertainty and can feel more anxious, disoriented and alone.
Since the beginning of the sanitary alarm, the International Relations Service of Universidad Loyola has remained in close contact with its international students, both those who were staying outside Spain -outgoing- and with the international students who were studying at its campuses in Cordoba and Seville -incoming-. In total it’s a community of more than 300 students. To do so, we have initiated an online community where the team connects, communicates and engages with them through weekly contests, sharing positive messages, sending official government and university communications, etc. Moreover, International Relations have strengthened official communication channels with partner institutions.
In collaboration with the Service of Evangelization and Dialogue, International Relations is developing a series of spiritual, emotional intelligence and leadership workshops to help these groups of students facing the situation.
As we continue to observe, this pandemic is having negative consequences in the world economies and therefore affecting the economic capacity of student families. The university has shown special sensitivity to this reality and has created a scholarship fund, so that, following one of its principles, no student needs to leave Loyola for economic reasons.
Since the begging of the pandemic, Loyola has felt the call to collaborate with our sister universities of UNIJES (Spain), Kircher Network (Europe and Near East) and IAJU (Global) sharing best practices, policies, and procedures on how to handle the consequences of the virus. It was thanks to our partners in Japan and South Corea, where the virus hit before, that we knew about the first reactions of governments to the virus. Moreover, we have formed, with Loyola University Chicago, a COVID-19 “observatory” where both universities share information about the virus updates and university policies to react more soundly to the situation.
Certainly, this pandemic is showing us what citing Father General Arturo Sosa SJ, he stated, namely “that we are one humanity, every human being… is part of this one varied rich and interdependent humanity”. The situation highlights the importance of collaborating to build programs that prepare global citizens which will be able to develop global structures and lead a globalization of solidarity, programs like Magis Exchange Agreement of the IAJU.