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"With the cyberattack we were alone, now it's a worldwide crisis"

"With the cyberattack we were alone, now it's a worldwide crisis"

Interview with Nick Bos, head of the crisis management team

​After the cyber crisis at the turn of the year, Maastricht University must now face the coronavirus. Again, a crisis management team (CMT) has been set up, and again Vice President of the Executive Board, Nick Bos is its leader. “With the cyberattack we were alone and had to find our own way, now it is a worldwide crisis and we can lean partially on the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Area Health Authority (GGD).”

Weeks ago, the corona crisis - which at the time was mainly a problem for China - was already on the Executive Board’s agenda. Various people were consulted and possible scenarios were looked into. On Wednesday 4 March – “you see that it is getting bigger, even though you don’t know how big. You do know that a more directive approach is appropriate,” says Nick Bos – so for the second time in a short space of time, a crisis management team was set up at the UM. “We have a crisis protocol; we often practice it. The first thing that the core team – which consists of about seven people – does, is determine what are the issues and who are the target groups? And subsequently, who do we need to bring to the table? Which experts? When it comes to education, we talk with the vice rector of education, Harm Hospers. He takes our questions and discusses them with heads of the education bureau, student deans and psychologists, and those who draw up timetables. Our aim is to continually gain rich information from deep within the faculties and service centres. We make our decisions based on that. The other way around applies too, when we look at questions from the university.”

Online education

Last Thursday, 12 March, prime minister Rutte announced a temporary ban on face-to-face lectures. A few hours later, it became clear that the rest of the education activities would also be online. “We were not surprised by it, we had taken it into account and had already decided to go completely online, especially because of the international character of the UM. You know that many students will want to go home when the corona crisis reaches us. The point is that we are not an online university, we come from far. We quickly dived into it. It is great to see that the first successful online tutorial group sessions have already taken place, but things also go wrong, that is only natural. It requires a different methodology from lecturers, it is only Tuesday, we have only just started.”

Difference between then and now

The CMT sets out the lines and is also the place where all lines come back together again, Bos explains. That was what happened during the cyber crisis, and it is the same now. “We also work with some of the same people. We continually consult with directors, deans, external parties such as the VSNU, the ministry, the school’s inspectorate. The biggest difference with the last crisis is that we were the only university, now we are one of many. We don’t need to look for solutions by ourselves, the whole of academic Europe is down, we can do it together. We have clear guidelines from the RIVM and the GGD for a number of areas. The choices are not difficult, they are almost self-explanatory, certainly if you listen carefully to the organisation. In the case of the cyberattack, we had to find our own way.”  Another important difference: “In the case of the cyber crisis, there was a moral choice: do we pay the hackers, however reprehensible it is, or not? You don’t have that kind of dilemma this time.”

Isolated

There is a great chance that the next block, period 5, will also take place online. “We are thinking about what we can do for students who are sitting alone in their rooms, or who are at home. How can we ensure that they stay involved, that they don’t get isolated?” He refers to the initiatives of students who offer their help, “terribly good and encouraging. That they are taking the responsibility themselves.” He realises that there is a possibility of study delays, “in that context, we will also have to talk about whether we maintain the binding study advice. That is of course a national discussion.”

No easy job

It is the second chairmanship of a CMT in a very short space of time. Can he keep up? “You have to deal with a lot that has far-reaching consequences. It is no easy job and it is tiring, but when you see how many people devote themselves to the university, then that also gives you energy. The atmosphere is good, we don’t have to row against the current. But I have to be careful; you don’t want to make a wrong decision as a result of fatigue.”

 

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