УКИМ
Филозофски и Филолошки факултет, УКИМ / фото: Мета.мк

Government of North Macedonia’s recommendation that the teaching activities at the faculties of the universities in the country should continue with a physical presence, dazed both the universities and the students. Most of the higher education institutions that have implemented a combined teaching model in the past two years will continue with it until the end of the current academic year, but some of the faculties are returning to the teaching in the lecture halls and lecture rooms.

At the 34th Government session held on the 29th of March, among other relaxations of the restrictive measures for the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus, a conclusion was reached that the faculties can continue teaching with a physical presence, with obeyance of recommended preventive measures for COVID-19.

This conclusion of the Government “confused” the universities, i.e. some of them only saw it as a recommendation, while others understood it as binding. This, in turn, prompted a reaction from the students, who found themselves caught up in the middle of the academic year having to return to teaching at the faculties.

Students cannot find accommodation in the middle of the year
Some of the students rejoiced over the return to the faculties and socializing with their colleagues, but for most students, the problem with returning to classes with a physical presence is that those who study outside their place of residence and have attended online classes from home for the past two years, now have no accommodation in the cities where their faculties are located, so this recommendation surprised them.

“It doesn’t make sense to return to the faculty in the middle of the year. I am not against the physical presence, but not all students are in Skopje, have accommodation or applied for a student dormitory, because it is done at the beginning of the academic year, and the accommodation of one student is not that simple and easy”, reacts a student at one of the faculties of the University “SS. Cyril and Methodius“ University (UKIM) in Skopje.

“What should the students from other cities do? Where should they look for an apartment for two months? I hope the information is not correct and that the university will take this into account, as well,“ another student said.

And while some faculties one day after the government session informed the students that they would not change the model of teaching, some of the universities understood the recommendation of the government as a “decision”, and despite their autonomy, rushed to inform the students that teaching would continue with physical presence.

“We are informed that this is not a recommendation, but a conclusion of the government, so we had no choice but to start with physical presence after the first colloquiums”, writes a student at the Faculty of Economics in Prilep – S. Kliment Ohridski ” (UKLO) University.
Such information from the faculty staff was also communicated to students from some private universities, including the International Slavic University (MSU) and the European University.

Meta.mk asked the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia about the adopted conclusion for teaching with physical presence, and it replied that at the session the recommendation of the main coordination crisis staff for dealing with Covid-19 was adopted, but also that the universities are autonomous when it comes to their work.

“According to the legislation, higher education institutions in the country are autonomous in terms of functioning and organization of work, so each faculty individually decides how and in what way to organize the academic year – whether it will be through distance learning, with physical presence or combined”, States the government.

The faculties at UKIM will not change the teaching model, UKLO continues teaching with physical presence
We reached out to some of the public and private universities asking whether they will change the teaching model in the last two months of the current academic year. Almost all universities in the past two years have implemented a combined teaching process – with physical presence and distance learning, depending on the specifics of the study programs, the number of students, and the spatial capacities of the faculties.

The largest university in the country, UKIM, say that they are considering the new government recommendations and expect an opinion from the University’s management, but the main problem when returning to attendance of the classes is maintaining distance among groups with more students.

“Of course, in the coming period, the new recommendations from the government’s conclusions will be taken into account in order to establish conditions for full return of students to the lecture rooms of UKIM. At this point, the dilemma rises from the recommendation for maintaining a physical distance of 1-2 meters, which will prevent large groups of students from attending classes with physical presence. We hope to get an opinion on this issue soon. Also, it should be borne in mind that students from the interior can not be expected to settle for their stay in Skopje at this time of year, i.e. almost at the end of the summer semester“, says Prof. Hristina Spasevska, provost for teaching at UKIM.

Some of the faculties of UKIM, including the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering (FINKI) and the Faculty of Medicine, have already decided not to change the current teaching model, at least until the end of the current academic year.

Online learning will be an option
Despite the recommendation to return to teaching with a physical presence, the distance learning model will continue to be an “integral part” of the teaching process at most universities. The transition to online teaching in the past period has shown the benefits of this type of learning.

The provost for teaching at UKLO says that the University “recommends that all units, when preparing new curricula for their study programs, should include the possibility for conducting online classes” in order to be more flexible in the future in relation to some new unforeseen situations.

Spasevska also believes that the online teaching has positive aspects, but the focus of UKIM in the future will be put on returning to teaching with a physical presence.

“Distance teaching certainly had positive sides, but it cannot substitute teaching with a physical presence. Even in the conditions of pandemic, wherever possible, students were present at the faculties. This will be the case in the next academic year 2022/23,“ says Spasevska.