Ensuring Education Amidst A Pandemic : Universal College Sri Lanka


 Ensuring Education Amidst A Pandemic : Universal College Sri Lanka


Amidst the chaos of the global pandemic that is Covid-19 most of our daily processes have come to a complete standstill. Schools have closed down, workplaces have resorted to work-from-home policies and social distancing has turned into our new normal. 

Even though Colombo has slowly begun to integrate back to pre-corona practices during the recent weeks, most institutions and higher education providers have continued to keep their doors closed for the time being. But what does this mean for the students enrolled? Much like us and the rest of the planet, is their education too in lockdown? Well, with Universal College Sri Lanka (UCL) it doesn’t have to be! 

Want to find out why? Here’s Mr.Gihan Silva (CEO) and Dr. Dhananjay Kulkarni (Dean of Academic Affairs) of UCL diving into the details.


“At UCL, we passionately adopt a student centric approach and are committed to providing a holistic learning experience.” 

Mr. Gihan Silva, Chief Executive Officer UCL 


Being the CEO for such a widely known Institution sounds like a full time job - how would you describe your experience?  


Ever since I assumed office in 2018, it’s been an absolute pleasure! I have been engaging in evolving mutually beneficial partnerships with our university partners, and am always empowered by the eminent Board of Directors to lead UCL to greater heights - a richly rewarding and satisfying experience indeed! 


In your opinion, what elevates UCL from the rest of the education providers in Sri Lanka present today?      

Apart from the unique distinction of being the only institute in Sri Lanka which offers a guaranteed pathway to Monash University (one of the world’s Top 100), the UCL experience is truly world class! We at UCL have an undying commitment to achieve, maintain and offer the most stringent of international standards and the highest quality of higher education that is possible to be awarded here in Sri Lanka. 


As the exclusive partner of Monash Education how does UCL work to execute this international standard? 

We do so by adhering to the exact standards set in place across all Monash providers internationally. Our academic team works in close collaboration with their counterparts at Monash by diligently following their course work, curriculum as well as modules, while learning similar management systems and assessment methods. We even adopt the small-group teaching methodology where we maintain internationally recommended classroom sizes that enables our lecturers to give their utmost attention to each and every student guaranteeing a truly personalised experience! 

How has that standard been maintained during the Covid-19 pandemic?

As you are aware by now, ‘student centric” is the UCL mantra. Even during the CoVID- 19 pandemic we have continued to provide quality higher education to all our students pursuing MUFY, MCD, UIFY and UCLan programmes according to their standardtimetable.We even marked ourselves as the first higher education institute to start delivering online lectures for our students with the sudden outbreak of CoVID – 19. I also want to mention our Director, the much respected Dr. Harsha Alles whose wisdom, foresight and guidance inspired our Dean and me to make immediate arrangements to go online - almost entirely overnight!  

 

What measures have been taken to familiarize the staff members and teachers on Online based teaching and its elements? 

When the news of the outbreak caught wind, our dedicated staff members were quick to respond to our exact needs. After a couple of trial runs and mock sessions, they adapted to it like a duck takes to water! Our online lectures were formulated so as to be conducted using a combination of audio/ video, live streaming and simulation tools,to better help keep our students engaged. Not just that though, as each day passes our teachers are always on the hunt for new and improved methods of teaching and guidance - innovation is important now more than ever! 


It’s clear the situation won’t remain the same going forward. How does UCL plan on adapting to the changes that are set to come about post Covid-19?

Seeing the fast paced evolving nature of the current situation, we hope to continue to provide innovative online teaching and learning experiences for each of the students following our programs. We are fully geared and ready to adopt a larger student audience when it comes to online based programs, and are excited to see what changes are set to come about once the pandemic ends! 

 


“UCL guarantees happy students, excellent results and a world class faculty - what more could you ask for?!”

Dr. Dhananjay Kulkarni, Dean of Academic Affairs UCL




In 3 words how would you describe the UCL experience? 


To me the UCL experience can be summarised by these three terms - Learn, Grow, Succeed!


As the founding Dean of UCL, what has your personal journey been like so far? 

From the very first day of scouring for locations to set up the campus in, to organising our team and setting our goals for the years to come, I’ve been a part of the UCL story from day one itself! We started quite small, but I am proud to say that within 5 years of operation we have managed to build a strong team of dedicated individuals driven towards success - and is now one of the best education providers in the entire island! As the Dean, my work entails helping our staff members and teachers alike, while taking on leadership positions and offering my guidance to the countless numbers of students that walk through our doors. Safe to say, I love my job! 


What would you identify as the key skills that UCL students gain by attending your college, when compared to others? 

In my opinion, students who study at UCL gain all the skills and confidence they need to become true leaders in any industry! Apart from the academic and soft skills which students develop in class, they are exposed to a variety of self and team development activities which help all students acquire much needed skills for tomorrow’s industry. This includes skills in creativity, collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking and time management - enough to take any industry by the storm! 


We heard about the online platform devised during the time of Covid-19. How exactly does it work? 


I’m glad you asked! When it comes to our online classes, we primarily use Microsoft Teams with content hosted on Moodle as LMS. We also use Zoom for meetings and presentations. I have to say our tech-savvy students and teachers have been quick to grasp the concepts of online learning, and the transition has been much smoother than expected! Our teachers have also been experimenting a lot so as to find the exact tools that fit their specific subjects and course structures. This includes the use of digital pens, screen sharing, videos, quiz games, and as always, the good old whiteboard! 


Online classes are said to be quite different when compared to in-person lectures. Do you think there are unexplored benefits to going online? 

Why ask me? I’ll let the students fill you in! 

We recently ran a survey to decide the rates of satisfaction with regards to our students, and these were the key things they pointed out. 


It’s convenient and easy 

Lectures are fun and engaging - not boring at all! 

The topics are interesting, and lecturers are well prepared even before the class begins.

Lecturers manage to clearly explain things and use different tools, including video, simulation, slides.

The atmosphere is more relaxed so it’s easier to participate in discussions.

There is no need to travel - saves time and money! 

It’s highly flexible - we can balance the time accordingly.

It’s easy to access.

Overall - very impressed! 


Need I say more? 


Is the online platform set to continue to be a part of the UCL program post Covid19? 

Yes, it will! When we tracked our performance over the last few months, we had seen close to 100% attendance in most of the classes and student satisfaction rates were at an all time high of 90%. However, we do believe that students learn and experience things better in classrooms or on campus so depending on the situation at hand we will make necessary  arrangements so that students will not feel at a disadvantage. We plan to start on this by first having the students on campus for short periods of time. This will be for things like a few hours of lab work, revision, Q/A sessions, exams and meetings with the teachers for certain discussions. We also wish to keep in mind the feedback from parents and students while we go forward, and if the situation demands us to keep things online, then we will continue to do so. Taking care of students is our current number one priority! 


As a front runner in the education industry, according to you what steps do you believe education providers must take when moving forward in a world post Covid-19? 

Frankly ,the situation is still highly uncertain. Although the social distancing guidelines will be relaxed, there will be anxiety and a sense of awareness among all of us that infections could rise at any time. In this crippling economic status the world has been put into, education is a key element if we are to overcome this pandemic. Education providers must be well-equipped and geared to be online providing their services at their utmost capacity. 

If we are to recommence lectures and physical contact, limiting contact hours and having creative seating arrangements with the required social distance will also help in curbing the crisis. We at UCL are also doing what we can to prepare such guidelines, and are providing the required support to students and staff to ensure a healthy environment in the future. Yes, competition exists, but as a community we need to support the education development goals of the country and move forward positively. There is no doubt we will emerge from this united as one nation - stronger and wiser than ever before!  

-Nethmi Liyanapathirana

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