Post COVID-19 opportunities and insights from the lenses of university students in ASEAN and China

By Ilham Dwi Hatmawan and Tun Pa Pa Kyaw, AUN Interns
18 September 2020

On September 16, 2020, as a supporting partner for Business China’s annual FutureChina Global Forum held on September 15-17, 2020, The Young SEAkers co-organised the inaugural TYS ASEAN-China Youth Forum with Tsinghua University’s Student Association of the Belt & Road Initiative. The theme of this panel was "Post-COVID-19 Opportunities and Insights from the Lenses of University Students in ASEAN and China”.

The Young SEAkers had strong support from the ASEAN University Network and Dr. Choltis Dhiratiti, Executive Director of ASEAN University Network, graced the event by delivering the opening keynote speech for the panel session.

In his speech, Dr. Choltis emphasized the significance of the role of higher education institutions to listen, learn, and analyze what students are doing and thinking to promote cooperation in their position as intermediaries between students and industry. Thus, the role of higher education can be perceived in a highly connected world with increasingly innovative technology and encourages the development of a new work environment.

Dr Choltis also prompted the panelists and participants to think from the perspectives of how the COVID-19 crisis can become an opportunity for students to accelerate their ideas by formulating strategies in various areas to help their respective nations building efforts.

The panel was moderated by Calvin Wee, co-founder of The Young SEAkers and consisted of four panelists, Lim Chhay (final year Cambodian student majoring in International Relations at the Royal University of Phnom Penh), Zachary Zhang (penultimate year Singaporean undergraduate student at Fudan University in Shanghai), Li Jiaqi (sophomore undergraduate student at Tsinghua University), and Chen Ruoxiao (candidate of the SAIS-Tsinghua Dual Masters Degree Program).

The first discussion question asked how students are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The panelists revealed that their universities were taking actions that reflect sensitivity to the pandemic and seriously prioritizing the health of staff and students through limiting interactions and conducting precautionary measures that simultaneously increase public attention to the importance of the healthcare system. It was inevitable that the initial phase of migrating learning methods into online formats was challenging. However, the panelists saw that their peers are currently able to take advantage of the situation to develop soft skills that they did not have the opportunity to practice, take up hobbies that used to be rarely done, and enjoy more quality time with family. Chhay stated that the infrastructure gap between urban and rural areas is inevitably the cause of the unequal access to information and communication in his country (Cambodia).

In addition, another challenge that has also arisen is the difference in time zones which in some cases forces students to adjust their study and rest time. However, instructors have already tried to overcome the issue by providing recorded learning materials that can be accessed by students when they are physically and mentally fit to catch up with the classes. Virtual meetings were also mentioned not only making it difficult for students but also for instructors due to limited interactions. For this reason, some universities in China have begun to hold limited physical classes. On top of that, examination integrity is another issue that requires attention.

In the midst of uncertainty and ongoing adjustments in learning methods, the panelists agreed to encourage the attention of students and the government to strengthen cooperation efforts between regions to prepare themselves for the post-COVID-19 pandemic era. This means that we need to realize that life must go on and strategies to face the future need to be prepared immediately. Hence, students, governments, and communities in the ASEAN region and China can open themselves to collaborate towards fostering cooperation amongst the region by promoting the responsibility to scale up mutual understanding between the society on how ASEAN and China can walk together through the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, the panelists suggested projects that students from Southeast Asia and China could participate in. Summer schools based in China and ASEAN were one of the more flexible and least prohibitive options for students to take part in. Webinars and forums targeting students from different countries would allow students to communicate through online platforms as well. Since youths consist of a sizable population, organizations with a youth focus such as The Young SEAkers will be vital in creating interaction and engagement among students in ASEAN and China that will be essential for the two regions to thrive post-COVID-19.

During the COVID-19 period, students could learn new skills for self-development, at the same time as adapting themselves to the use of technology. Due to COVID-19, digitalization has also greatly accelerated. Hence, digitalization will be crucial in the post-COVID as well. The panelists also added to the idea that young people could adapt to the change in a short period of time. However, the only thing to overcome would be the different time zones. The panelists also stated that certain jobs may be replaced by technology in the future.

Lastly, on the question regarding ASEAN-China relation, the panelists called for greater collaboration. As suggested by the panelists, Singapore could act as the moderator in connecting with different ASEAN countries and China. Moreover, the impact of COVID-19 goes beyond public health issues, and ASEAN has proved their solidarity and collaboration during the COVID-19 crisis. In the long run, ASEAN and China may have a positive relationship. Interdependence between ASEAN and China and by keeping good communications would move this relationship forward.