London, Jun 2 (PTI) Six new task forces on widening access to higher education, addressing high costs, tackling student debt and improving mental health will be championed by the top 50 finalists of the inaugural Global Student Prize, which is to be announced in August.
The organisers of the USD 50,000 prize said the task forces, to address education issues worldwide including in India, will begin their work in the coming months to offer student-led perspectives for universities, businesses and policymakers to consider.
Global Teacher Prize 2020 winner and member of the judging panel for the Global Student Prize, Ranjitsinh Disale, welcomed the initiative as a means to address unequal access to learning.
“These new task forces, which will put the student voice front and centre in addressing the challenges facing higher education in a post-COVID world,” said Disale, a primary school teacher from Paritewadi in Solapur in Maharashtra, who won the USD 1-million Global Teacher Prize at the end of last year.
“COVID is the greatest threat to global education the world has ever seen. But even when the pandemic is over, when students return to their lecture halls, we cannot go back to the old way of doing things,” he said.
“We must learn the lessons and hard truths COVID has exposed – that the high cost of university puts it beyond the reach of poorer students, that the online solutions many universities employed are not available to all, and that many students are struggling with the cost of living and with their mental health,” Disale added.
The new task forces were born out of a Global Student Summit hosted recently by education charity Varkey Foundation in partnership with Chegg.org – the non-profit arm of education technology company Chegg.
They will be run by Chegg.org’s “Changemaker Community”, made up of the finalists of the new student prize.
“Students all over the world have shown tremendous strength, focus and determination to carry on learning and fighting for their future. We must listen to their voices as we look to help students thrive in the new educational environment left behind by the pandemic,” said Lila Thomas, Head of Chegg.org.
“Our new Chegg.org Changemaker Community, made up of students from every corner of the world, will bring fresh thinking to take forward these calls to action and look for lasting solutions to the challenges faced by higher education,” she said.
Data revealed by the Chegg.org Global Student Survey of nearly 17,000 undergraduates across 21 countries shows that students want to see universities offer lower cost study options, that many are struggling with debt and to afford food, and that student mental health has suffered during the period of COVID-19.
In India, 54 per cent of students said they would like their university course to incorporate more online learning.
In addition, over half (56 per cent) of Indian students surveyed said they struggled with their living costs in the last year.
“I urge universities, policymakers, businesses and all those with a stake in educating the next generation to listen carefully to these timely and vital calls to action,” added Disale.
The new task forces will examine six calls to action arising from the Global Student Summit – universities should widen access to education by exploring lower cost study options and the international community must urgently bridge the growing global digital divide by guaranteeing internet access for all universities.
It will also examine governments and business must work together to urgently address the global student debt crisis, universities throughout the world must focus resources and attention on supporting their student populations’ mental health, universities and government must ensure that food insecurity will not be a barrier to learning for students and universities should support their students, whatever they study, in preparing for the fast-changing job market.
The Global Student Prize has been created as a new platform to highlight the efforts of extraordinary students making an impact on learning and society at large.
It is open to students worldwide who are at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training and skills programme.
The inaugural prize closed to nominations last month and the entries will now be narrowed down to a top 50 shortlist, with the winner picked from the top 10 finalists by the Global Student Prize Academy. PTI AK RUP RUP