The impact of Coronavirus on IAPRI members: an initial report
In an effort to build up a picture of how the Coronavirus has affected – and is likely to affect – members, IAPRI sent out questionnaires on the understanding that any information collected would stay anonymous.
This is an ongoing project so, if you have not completed a questionnaire and would like to, you can find it here: https://www.memberleap.com/members/form.php?orgcode=IAPR&fid=4248573
In the meantime, IAPRI is keen to present the first handful of responses submitted in the final week of April, in order to give an idea of the variety of experiences reported. There is often a distinct contrast between the impacts on universities and on more commercial organizations, but also, clearly, between members in different countries.
In parallel with this, we spoke directly to US members Cal Poly University and Michigan State University (MSU), where Javier de la Fuente and Rafael Auras, respectively, were happy to go on the record about measures taken there.
At MSU, Auras described the overall impact of the virus on the School of Packaging as “extremely significant”.
Specifically on the financial side, he characterized impacts as “major” and “extremely significant”. He added: “We don’t know the magnitude yet.”
“We are using synchronous and asynchronous online teaching, with MSU closed for business-as-usual until May 15,” he said. “We aren’t sure how we will operate in the coming months after that.”
As in many organizations, all MSU staff are working remotely from home. Of the university’s research projects, Auras said: “All of them have needed to be extended, with a no-cost extension. No new projects have been started which need lab or experimental work.”
In the current climate, he said, it is extremely difficult to predict or plan anything, certainly not six months or a year out. “Summer classes are online,” said Auras. “Fall classes are in discussion.”
Like MSU, Cal Poly has moved all its courses online. “Most of our courses are being taught in synchronous mode to keep human interaction as normal as possible,” said de la Fuente.
The “hands-on” element, normally carried out in the labs, is clearly missing. “Students are doing the hands-on part at home,” he says, adding that he has also been able to move some of his own experiments with students to an online platform.
“The university moved very quickly to make software available to students free-of-charge, by running computer programs in the cloud,” de la Fuente said. “In that regard, we are in better shape than before Covid-19.”
Overall, he called the impact of the pandemic “significant”, but said he did not have information specifically on financial impacts. At least one in-house event during May has been canceled.
“The virus has tested our flexibility and skills at adapting, and has made us discover some new ways of doing things,” said de la Fuente. “We have learnt a lot in a couple of weeks. It’s quite amazing. I’m confident we will keep many of the ‘good practices’ after the pandemic is over.”
Six additional anonymous questionnaires were returned from members across the Americas, Europe and Asia. One organization reported only minor impacts, overall; two said they had seen some impact; one talked about ‘significant’ impacts; and one said they were ‘extremely significant’.
Focusing specifically on financial impacts, responses were split evenly between ‘some impact’ in three cases and ‘significant impact’ in a further three.
Regarding working patterns, the majority of universities reported 95%-to-100% of staff working from home. For corporate members and more commercially-based testing operations, home-working proportions varied: just 30% for one Asia-based test centre; and 50% for one European research organization.
One corporate member, with varying numbers of between 50% and 100% working from home, talked about “the challenge of trying to maintain group dynamics and teamwork”.
Different online teaching tools were being used across the universities, from a combination of Microsoft Teams, Skype and Canvas to, in another case, Blackboard. One European university said: “We are used to running online programs with a strong online component, and experienced with technologies such as Moodle and with the inverted classroom model.”
Most universities polled were also conducting exams online.
On the topic of research, the experience of members was again understandably very varied depending on the type of research being undertaken. One European university was benefiting from the momentum of completed research, processing data and writing up papers, but added: “We will soon need access to the labs.”
Most universities reported no access, or minimal access, to labs to conduct testing, usually with a system of permits to obtain any sort of access at all. For example, one European research institute said the virus had made only a minor impact on research.
One university department said access to labs was possible, but only with a maximum of two individuals in the lab at any one time. Another university said lab-based projects were affected “to some extent”. “But we’re on our way back to normality,” it added.
Where corporate members, testing-based organizations and university departments were very dependent on project work with external business partners, the effect of Coronavirus lockdowns in restricting travel and visits to companies was keenly felt.
When it comes to new projects, one university explained, “everything is on hold because of the uncertainty of the situation.” Conversely, one European university said new projects were unaffected.
Five out of six respondents said events had been postponed or canceled because of the pandemic.
Another area where responses were quite varied was an assessment of prospects for the next month, the next three months, and for six months to a year.
Many universities foresee continuing until the summer vacation under current conditions, or with further slight adaptations. Looking six months out, one European university said: “We hope to get back to normal by then, with some restrictions.” Changes might include more social distancing and alterations to the lecturing system.
Another, also based in Europe, said it assessed prospects for the future as being ‘good’, although companies may reduce their commitment to projects.
Prospects for departments at different universities are likely to depend on how they are financed. Those dependent on public funding and, indirectly, on tax receipts may not feel too secure, but private universities could face even tougher prospects. “The next two years will be hard,” one said.
An Asian-based research and testing operation said it expected to recover its capacity slowly over the next three months, but without necessarily returning to pre-Coronavirus levels. Business in its home market, especially, was not expected to fully recover.
One European research organization said it expected a 5%-to-10% reduction in productivity over the next month, but then predicted it would see positive growth, especially in environmental-based projects.
One probable repercussion over the next six months to a year for one corporate member was reduced travel for staff, particularly at an international level.
Clearly, this is not a definitive, or even necessarily representative, picture of how IAPRI members have experienced the Coronavirus and its impacts and what effects they expect to see in the future. As we receive more feedback via the questionnaire, we will provide you with further information.