An international network of business schools aims to safeguard the welfare of students and help them graduate despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.
The impact of the virus on Australian students – international students in particular – has been significant, with many fearing that they might not be able to complete their students due to government travel bans and other sweeping restrictions.
CEMS Global Alliance in Management Education, a cooperation of leading business schools and universities with multinational companies and NGOs, says now is the time for leaders to walk their talk on supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing.
According to the latest Guardian Essential poll, 53% of people surveyed said they are now very concerned about the threat of COVID-19 – a 14-point increase in only a week.
‘An enormous challenge’
Chair of the Alliance, Professor Greg Whitwell, who is also Dean of the University of Sydney Business School, said that while governments have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic on a country-by-country basis, the crisis for CEMS is a global one.
“I think I can safely say that ours is the most complex, connected and sophisticated study program in the world when you take into account the size and cultural diversity of the student cohort, the sheer number of institutions in the alliance and its extraordinary geographical spread,” he said.
“This situation has meant that the impact on our students has been highly varied”.
He said negotiating these different and ever-changing circumstances has been an “enormous challenge.”
“The goal throughout has been to safeguard the welfare of our students and to do our best to allow them to graduate,” Professor Whitwell said.
He went on to describe the pandemic as “a crisis of humanity” which demands “effective leadership and effective communication”.
“In the current world environment of great uncertainty, fear and anxiety can easily emerge and eventually give way to panic,” he said.
“Leaders need to be empathetic with an ability to show genuine concern for those who are bewildered, anxious and frightened.”
A time for leaders to shine
Professor Whitwell also said that leaders needed to “demonstrate some sense of control by being able to say, truthfully, that you have a plan, a map, an idea of what you anticipate to be the most likely outcomes”.
“In addition, you must look to the future and galvanise others around you by driving the notion that we will get through this crisis and that we will, eventually, emerge stronger, more informed, more enlightened, and more resilient than ever,” he said.
“It is my absolute conviction that these leadership traits have been on display across the CEMS alliance”.
Moving to practical issues, Professor Whitwell said that members of the Alliance had started to explore ways of helping each other in concrete terms, “such as by offering a webinar on online teaching and examination practices”.
“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of being supportive of one another. We need to manage this crisis together,” Professor Whitwell said.
“Despite our shuttered existence, my hope is that a generosity of spirit prevails, that we do not extinguish a sense of warmth, that helpfulness and positivity emerge triumphant”.