How has COVID-19 affected students studying at online universities?

Fred AkaPhari Awaah, is a lecturer at the University of Professional Studies – Accra, Ghana.

How has COVID-19 affected students studying at online universities?

Within the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, a key challenge among institutions of higher learning is assessment of students needs. In particular, those who were traditionally using the brick and mortar system but are now compelled to study virtually.

Students studying in online universities may be facing similar challenges. Yet no record has been found, within literature about the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, regarding online universities assessing the needs of their students to enhance their study experiences.

The exception of the National Open University of Nigeria is worth reporting and one of interest to me as a researcher in sub-Saharan Africa.

A recent survey on the satisfaction of an array of service by the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) showed that the top five areas of best satisfaction for students are:

  • Ease of application for admission to study in NOUN

  • Ease of payment of course fees

  • Quality of course materials (suitable for distant learners; written in language you can understand)

  • Acquisition of knowledge and skills that can match those in other universities

  • Adequacy of administration of e-examination (ease of examination administration and quality of test items) according a students surveyed at the university. 

The survey conducted by the International Research Consortium, at the instance of the university,  found that the top five areas of least satisfaction for students are:

  • Quality of the NOUN Learning Management System (rich, easy to navigate, resources especially videos are largely developed by NOUN staff, up-to-date, online help available)

  • Learner support outside the study centre (24-hour response to inquiries by email, WhatsApp, SMS or voice calls)

  • Adequacy of study centre facilities (e.g. for onsite study, library, recreation)

  • For enrolled students in the centre; quality and adequacy of experience for practical work e.g. in the laboratory

  • Ease of receiving course materials. 

Students recommended that, the admission process should be streamlined in a way that it is fully done online. This should include uploading relevant documents on the portal without having to go to the study centres. They further desired that, information on the estimated cost of fees for each course should be available on the NOUN website, and graduates within the age range of NYSC should be allowed to undertake the scheme to further boost the esteem of the institution and make its alumni more marketable. 

Data Collection 

The students of NOUN were asked in a non- representative survey about how they assess the ease of application for admission, ease of payment of course, ease of receiving course materials, quality of course materials, learner support, adequacy of study centre facilities, relevant and currency of the online resources, quality of Learning Management System, and the quality of facilitation of courses.

Other areas assessed were; feeling of acquisition of knowledge, the quality of IT services, learner support outside the study centre, the quality of academic advising, adequacy of administration of e-examination , and quality and adequacy of mentoring amongst others. 

Findings 

The survey conclude that, close to half of the students surveyed (48.4%) felt “satisfied” and less than one percent (0.8%) felt “extremely dissatisfied”.

The dissatisfaction by students were attributed to small halls and less computers that can accommodate more students for examinations, no easy access for people living with disability to exam venues, exam answers not appropriately uploaded and indicated as the right option, distractions in examination halls attributable to invigilators chit-chatting in the examination halls. 

Previous measures 

Information available to the International Research Consortium shows that NOUN authorities have been taking steps to address the challenge of facilities in the study centres. This survey provided important data on areas to improve. 

Consultants at the National Open University of Nigeria, Professor Peter Akinsola Okebukola and Professor Juma Shabani, were consulted to assess the satisfaction levels of needs of student of the university nationally and at the study centre levels.

The International Research Consortium comprising academics from Nigeria, Congo, Burundi and Ghana were commissioned to directly work under the two professors. The national report together with data for the survey are available at the National Open University of Nigeria and its satellite centres for researchers interested.

Since its reactivation in 2002, the authorities of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) have taken steps to deliver quality university education to those who seek knowledge and skills within its literally open doors.

The mechanism for measuring the expectations of students with current state is through needs’ assessment. Therefore, the problem that this study sought to solve was to determine the level of satisfaction with the university of NOUN students and through gap analysis, establish the areas of improvement.

Like all educational institutions in the world, some of the students have had their expectations fully met while others have found partial fulfilment of their quest for quality education. Within this global configuration, NOUN students are not different. The institutional goal is to narrow the gap between expectation and reality in meeting the needs of students for quality education.


More About the Author 

Fred AkaPhari Awaah, is a lecturer at the University of Professional Studies – Accra, Ghana. He has previously taught as a visiting fellow at Botho University (Botswana and Lesotho) and Crawford University (Nigeria); with invited talks at Millennium Campus Network (USA), UNESCO’s Institute of African Culture and International Understanding and the Centre for Human Security (Nigeria). 

Fred has previously helped with the work of the education division of the African Union, European Union, Association of African Universities, UNESCO, DAAD, Institute of African Culture and International Understanding, Trust Africa, MasterCard Foundation and many African governments.