The pandemic caused by a small coronavirus keeps the world in tenterhooks and attracts the attention of practically all fields of science. Particularly medical and health sciences are almost completely diverted towards the COVID-19 threat and the measures being applied in order to overcome it. Moreover, the media dedicate a large share of printed pages and airtime to the pandemic.
For higher education, the COVID-19 crisis brings both challenges and opportunities. The sudden pivot from in-person to online teaching has posed unprecedented challenges to teachers and students. On the other hand, the fact that traditional ways of lecturing were halted worldwide opened much room for innovative approaches and techniques, including various forms of real-time inter-university exchange and student working groups. Remote online teaching puts everyone in the same position, as lecturers and students attend the online sessions from their offices or homes. COVID-19 opened new opportunities for inter-university teaching, as instead of in-person teaching to students in a classroom, sessions had to be transferred via internet to many remote places from where students attended virtual classes.
During the last winter semester, the Department of Nursing and Health Sciences at Fulda University of Applied Sciences, which is currently implementing the DAAD-funded project HAWFulda. International, engaged in the experiment of inter-university teaching and learning. The basis for this was the existing cooperation with the Faculty of Health at York University in Toronto and the Erasmus links to the School of Public Health at Babeș-Bolyai University in the Romanian town of Cluj-Napoca. The starting points were the module “Global Health Policy and Politics” of Fulda’s Bachelor’s programme "International Health Sciences" and the very similar course “Global Health Policy: Power and Politics” at York University. The two teachers from Fulda, Prof. Dr. Dr. Jens Holst and Prof. Dr. Kai Michelsen, together with their colleague Prof. Mathieu Poirier in Toronto, organised a set of weekly lectures taught by each of them. A group of public health students attending a health policy course taught by Prof. Marius Ungureanu in Cluj completed the audience.
As part of the inter-university course, the students were assigned to groups for a project. They were required to look at a specific policy problem related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to control it. The task was to compare how their countries were handling the COVID-19 crisis and then prepare a multimedia product, such as a podcast or narrated Powerpoint presentation, as well as a short policy brief on the issue. The early April edition of the weekly newsletter York International includes a short article about the joint teaching-learning experiment.
Teachers and students agree that inter-university cross-country teaching and learning is an excellent opportunity to widen the scope of content and reach a broader audience. Particularly in the field of international and global health policy, exchange between different countries can be extremely enlightening and provide extraordinary added value to higher education. For the upcoming summer semester 2021, the two lecturers from Fulda are organising a similar joint learning opportunity with Prof. Eliphas Gitonga and the School of Public Health at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. Based on the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both universities within the framework of the DAAD-funded internationalisation project, Kenyan and German teachers will hold lectures for students in both countries about relevant health policy topics and give students the opportunity to come together in working groups dealing with relevant global health issues. “We are confident that the cooperative teaching and learning opportunity will sensitise students at both universities to the health-related differences and challenges of the Global North and the Global South,” explains Prof. Holst, who is responsible for the module at Fulda University of Applied Sciences. “As long as students are prevented from traveling for their mandatory semester and internship abroad, we have to expose them to international experiences as far as possible under the current conditions.”