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University students in Qatar graduating during a pandemic

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For many university students graduating this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined their dreams of starting a professional career of their liking after attaining their degree.

There are a lot of uncertainties about the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives. A lot depends on the effectiveness to contain it and how fast scientists develop a vaccine, all of which are hard to predict. With major economic sectors such as tourism and transportation considerably slowing down, economies all over the world are experiencing a decline in revenue streams. Numerous businesses have also begun to furlough and fire their employees in an effort to sustain their line of work.

A recession is usually measured by the shrinking of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in two consecutive quarters or six months. As WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic only last March, the period of six months hasn't ended yet. Although a recession hasn’t been made official, it seems inevitable at this point.

“It is a fundamental economic issue in which the demand for goods and services has effectively stopped. Recession is almost mathematically occurring at this stage,” said Giovanni Bandi, an economics professor at Northwestern University in Qatar.

While most nations have been financially strained because of the pandemic, Gulf countries, including Qatar, claim to be economically strong despite the slump in oil prices. Both the Gulf times and The Peninsular have reported that most Gulf nations have significant financial assets upon which to draw, and any concerns about fiscal consolidation can be delayed to 2021.

As an initiative to maintain a stable economy, the Qatari government has given $20.6 billion stimulus money to local firms and businesses.

“In Qatar, we will see the return of the demand for all the sectors key for diversification, in particular hospitality services,” said Bandi.

Even though the Qatari government seems positive about the country’s economic prospects, University students graduating this May are still very anxious about their future.

“In Qatar, I don’t know what the job industry will look like because all I hear is people getting fired and as a fresh graduate it's just a really, really bad feeling,” said Aimen Jan who recently graduated from Northwestern University in Qatar with a bachelors in communications.

The struggle to find employment during this pandemic has intensified because it is very hard to search for opportunities and network with people when you can’t physically exit your residence.

Though some graduates will be fortunate enough to be recruited after graduation, they might not get enough offers to attain the job of their preference.

“My dream job would have been to go into writing, copywriting, copyediting or anything like that. Right now, I don’t get to pick and choose a job I like. People are just blessed to have a job, so whatever I get I’ll just take it and see where it leads me,” said Jan.

Though there are university students who have still been able to get jobs, it is not without difficulty. “Despite the hurdles, there are students who have found jobs on their own, they say it is weird to communicate through a screen,” said Jan, who like her fellow classmates believes she will eventually pull through.

In order to cope with the scarcity of jobs, recent graduates, as well as students who will be graduating in the coming years, are considering pursuing their graduate education in order to increase their competitiveness in the market.

“I will do two things simultaneously; applying to law schools while at the same time looking for a job in a PR firm,” said Amadou Jalloh, a journalism junior at Northwestern University in Qatar.

COVID-19 has also affected academic learning pathways, ever since the government announced that academic institutions would be closed until further notice. For many academic institutions, learning has moved to online platforms such as Zoom or Bluejeans. Many students are anxious and unmotivated because of the limited learning experience online classes offer.

This disruption in learning holds especially true with masters student Abir Zakzok who completed her thesis on “the subject of language and behaviour”. She had also created interactive public installations to showcase her project. Due to COVID-19, Zakzok’s exhibition came to an abrupt close.

Although COVID-19 had created an environment that might not be conducive to learning, it has also pushed students to find alternative ways to improve their academic experience.

“I was thinking of other ways for my exhibition to be interactive without physically interacting with it and what came to mind was virtual interaction. It’s been a rollercoaster ride going from physical exhibition to a virtual interactive one. My installations are virtual now and accessible by a wider audience and this is kind of the dream for any designer or artist,” said Zakzok, a masters student in fine arts who found a way to express her thesis idea from a physical setting to a virtually interactive one.

Mary Dendisky, Head of Journalism department at Northwestern University in Qatar, believes that university graduates will still find job opportunities, though they might work harder looking for them. “Not everyone who wants to work in a newsroom right now will get that chance, those jobs will open in a year or so, but the academic training is really good. I still believe people will want to hire our graduates,”she said.