Already for a month, universities have been actively preparing for a new academic year, which threatens to become difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic and severe sanitary restrictions. In order to enable students to start offline classes on September 1, educational institutions are purchasing millions of masks and tens of litres of antiseptics at their own expense, and teachers are preparing to work in new conditions.
Nevertheless, about 20% of Russian teachers risk never crossing the threshold of their alma mater in the new academic year. According to the recommendations of the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, higher educational institutions are advised to switch teachers over 65 from full-time studies to distance education.
According to medical reports, the elderly are at higher risk of infection or severe illness from COVID-19. A number of regions still maintain self-isolation for such citizens. The question is whether it is possible to move a large number of 65+ teachers online without losing the quality of education, and whether teachers themselves want to do that.
According to the data provided by the Ministry of Education and Science for the year of 2019, almost 20% of teachers over 65 were employed in Russian universities. The largest number of older teachers is in the Kaliningrad Oblast (28.1%), Saint Petersburg (25%) and the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug (25%). Almost one in four teachers (24.7%) in Moscow reached the age of 65. Altogether in Russia there are about 44,600 teachers over 65+, most of them holding a PhD or a Doctoral Degree.
“In our university it has already been decided that teachers over 65+ will not be able to start face-to-face classes in September, and teachers were not asked whether they agree or not”, shared anonymously a teacher from one of the Moscow universities. “It is planned that the timetable will be organised in such a way that on certain days students will have only online classes, taught by older teachers. Most teachers are not happy with this prospect and consider it discriminatory, and many have problems working in distance learning programmes. We fear that switching to online studies will be followed by a reduction in hours and salaries. Many students and their parents were dissatisfied with distance learning and will be against a mixed education option. As a result, some of the hours taught by older teachers could go to younger teachers forever. And for many professors, whose work is their life, this loss is worse than coronavirus. Moreover, the loss of the most experienced teachers from higher educational institutions will inevitably affect the quality of teaching.”
How the new rules of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) will affect the work of higher educational institutions and older teaching staff, Rector of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation Mikhail Eskindarov told Moskovskij Komsomolets,
In fact, there is no strict banning of teachers over 65+ from face-to-face classes. At the university, each teacher over the age of 65 has to choose until August 26 whether they will work offline or remotely. Currently, there are 220 teachers of this age out of 1,900 at the Financial University. We have a large department of correspondence education at the university, and teachers who choose to work online will be involved in this work. Obviously, if all 220 people refuse to work offline, it will not be easy, but a solution can be found. In addition, there are 1,600 international students who cannot now return to Russia, at least in the first semester they will be studying online.
Of course, the overall situation at the universities is now quite difficult, but we really want our students to be able to return to their face-to-face classes in September. We have been preparing for a new academic year for a month, about 6 million masks have been purchased for the university and its branches, and about 20 million more masks, we estimate, are to be purchased. They will be distributed to all students and teachers. Buildings will be equipped with air disinfectants, there will be offered special tape markings for social separation, sanitizers and disinfectants. The problem is that allocation of additional funds for maintaining sanitary norms from the budget is not foreseen, and income of higher educational institutions from scientific and educational activities has significantly decreased due to the pandemic.