Students don’t have to be in De Uithof for now. Photo: DUB

Students studying from home, teachers announce emergency plans

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The UU is asking its students not to study in the university buildings until the start of the next block. The two University Libraries will also close their doors, starting tomorrow, to rein in the spread of the corona virus. Teachers are asked to inform students before Wednesday how they can finish their courses.

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On Thursday, the UU decided to pause all education and exams in ‘physical’ form. The measure will be in place until at least the start of the next block on April 20, the announcement on Friday said.

All teachers of current courses were asked to inform their students before Wednesday, March 18, about the consequences for the remaining meetings for their course, says UU spokesperson Maarten Post. Until they’ve received news from their teachers, students can assume that their classes and exams are cancelled.

It’s up to the teachers themselves to decide what type of solution they’ll offer. Options include several types of online education, such as streaming classes, or on-demand knowledge videos. Students will also hear when and how the exams will take place. There’s a possibility some exams will be moved to a day after the current block.

Libraries closing
The university is asking its students to study at home as much as possible. In the coming weeks, they will not be able to study in either of the university libraries. In contrast to previous messages, the university libraries will close starting this weekend; of course, the online services will remain available. Other university buildings are open, but not with the intent to have students work there.

Of all the university canteens, only the ones in the Educatorium and the Vening Meinesz building A will remain open. Employees will also be able to go to the cafés Madame Jeanette at Veterinary Medicine and Jazzmans in the Minnaert building. The opening hours will, however, be reduced: food and drink will only be available between 10am and 2pm. If necessary, the canteens will also be adjusted to fit a maximum of one hundred people.

Another change compared to earlier messages is that PhD candidates will be allowed to choose for themselves whether their PhD ceremonies take place or not. The requirement of no more than one hundred attendees will still apply.

Lastly, students are asked not to travel, whether the destination is a ‘dangerous’ red corona area or not. Students staying in orange or red areas are advised to return. Students who are staying in other countries that are as yet marked as relatively safe, but where universities are closing, are advised to follow local guidelines as much as possible.

A lot of extra work
On Friday, many teachers were already working hard to change their courses. A happy coincidence is that most courses are already nearing their end. Educational scientist Casper Hulshof, for instance, says that he’ll record most of his classes, and will replace so-called work groups with Skype chats with separate groups of students. He’s already informed his students via Blackboard.

Art historian Annemieke Hoogenboom has been occupied with the measures since Thursday afternoon, despite sitting at home with flu-like symptoms. It soon became evident that an excursion to museums in The Hague would not be able to take place, as most museums are currently closed. When on Thursday night, it became clear that all physical education was put on hold, she worked with a colleague to set up an emergency plan.

“We’ll put the remaining lectures online. Thankfully, I’ve got some experience in working with a system of my own, in which I use PowerPoint presentations with audio. We’ll also replace the work groups, which are mostly discussions about the material, with remote assignments to be submitted. We’ll do individual conversations through email or phone. It all means a lot of extra work.”

Hoogenboom informed her students of this on Friday morning around 10 am, but later heard that the faculty is working on the option of live-streaming lectures. So perhaps she’ll have to change her plans of using her own system.

The only thing still uncertain is the date and shape of the exam. “That’s currently planned for April 3. I hope it can take place. If it has to be rescheduled, that would be really inconvenient for me. I want to go on an extended vacation in mid-April, to the United States – if that’s possible by then.”

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The Ruppert remained quiet. Photo: DUB

Criticism from the University Council
DUB’s hearing several different opinions from students. There are some who complain of a lack of clarity. The university-wide email sent on Thursday evening, for example, apparently wasn’t received by everyone. But there are also students who have a fairly clear idea of what awaits them.

Ingrid Weerts is doing a Master’s in Leiden, but is also taking some courses in Utrecht. Her UU course Computational Argumentation has informed her that it will be replaced by a digital version. It’s unclear whether the exam this Wednesday will take place. “But compared to Leiden, Utrecht is quite ‘on point’- there, no one knows what’s going to happen after today.”

On Thursday afternoon, the students of the University council were critical about what they feel is the slow communication from the university. Council member Job van den Broek says he sympathises with the crisis situation, but still thinks students were left in the dark too long. “We received a ton of questions from students who’d heard one thing from the NOS, another from their study programme, and nothing at all from the UU.”

Spokesperson Maarten Post: “We understand that everyone’s waiting for information and we’re trying our best to provide it as quickly as possible. But it has to be done carefully as well. The situation was unclear for a little while, partially because there was a discrepancy between what was said at the press conference and what was mentioned in the governmental letter later on. First, it was said only large lectures would be done remotely, soon after this applied to all education.”

Students at University College Utrecht have since been informed that they will not return to their classrooms until mid-May. The academic calendar used by UCU is different than that of the rest of the UU. The Spring semester lasts until mid-May. All classes for that semester will take place online.

Many students are leaving Utrecht today for a week of spring break. They know that in the coming period, they won’t necessarily have to be in Utrecht. But the campus and its canteens will remain open, so if they want, students can study in Utrecht.

No Varsity
Elsewhere, the effects of the measures can be felt as well. Sports centre Olympos, for instance, is closing its doors for now at 6pm, cultural centre Parnassos had already made that decision earlier. The University museum is also closed. Student rowing event the Varsity, which was planned to take place on April 5, will be rescheduled as well.

Student associations in Utrecht will also close, they confirm to DUB. After the USC decided to close its building and club the Woo on Thursday, associations UVSV, Biton, Veritas, and Unitas followed. A Unitas ski trip to France will still take place, in close coordination with several authorities and the Utrecht GGD, the association says. Study associations have also since decided to take measures. There are many mutterings about trips that will be cancelled, but conferences and other meetings will not take place either.

Ghost town
There was a sinister atmosphere in De Uithof on Friday. Entrepreneurs there also wonder what the consequences will be of the lack of students, DUB heard. In the Ruppert building, we encounter Master’s student of Earth sciences Flore. “It’s like a ghost town,” she thinks. Co-owner Mert of sandwich shop Eat Out beneath the University Library fears a lack of income: “The measures are sensible, but it does have to be over by April.” Read our full report here.

A selection of cancelled events:

-        The Dies, the university’s birthday on March 26, is cancelled;

-        The University day for UU alumni is cancelled;

-        The Varsity, the most important student rowing event of the year, will be rescheduled;

-        The Studium Generale lectures in the University Hall are cancelled;

-        The University museum and the Old Hortus at the Lange Nieuwstraat are closed for now;

-        The marathon across Utrecht Science Park on April 19 will be rescheduled;

-        The Botanical Gardens were closed today; it's still unclear what will be decided;

-        Cultural Centre Parnassos is closed;

-        Sports centre Olympos will close from Friday 6pm until March 31.

 

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