Smart Start Up: UM is preparing itself for the ‘new normal’
MAASTRICHT. The University Library doors were ajar this week, the first researchers are allowed back in their laboratories, and on the Tongersestraat a trial project is being run to test the social-distancing campus. The UM is preparing itself for the ‘new normal’. “But much is still uncertain. We are preparing ourselves for something that is ever-changing, we must consider various scenarios,” says Nick Bos, vice President of the Executive Board.
Until now, all UM buildings were closed to students and entry by staff was explicitly discouraged: working from home and studying at home was standard. But this has been changing in dribs and drabs since Monday, 25 May. That day, for instance, the first students were back in the University Library in the city centre. Not large numbers, up to 25 students per 2.5-hour timeslot. Reservation beforehand is compulsory.
On the campuses in Randwijck (UNS 50, UNS 40 and PHS), Venlo (Greenport), and Chemelot, where researchers have to work on location – in laboratories, among others – they are back at work. Here again, the numbers are small, says Nick Bos. A total of about 350 to 400 people, but that could become more, because some plans, for example, are waiting on the go-ahead from the Ethnics Review Committee. “Too many people in a building at the same time is not permitted. Faculties themselves determine who is eligible. PhD students and postdocs, the most vulnerable groups, have priority.” The 1.5-metre distance remains sacred, there are fixed routes through the buildings, disinfectants are provided, entry is only possible with a pass, and the parking lots are open so staff can avoid using public transport.
“We are preparing ourselves for something that is constantly changing,” Bos concludes. “Maybe when the time comes, all kinds of scenarios will be superseded.” Nobody knows what the situation on 1 September 2020 will be. Not only in terms of government measures, but also regarding student numbers. The pre-enrolment figures (that don’t say anything about the actual enrolments, as prospective students can register at various universities) at the UM show no decline, says Bos. “There is even an increase, while on a national level there is a slight decrease. But you just don’t know with pre-enrolment figures. We normally attract a lot of students from Europe, we are hoping for a minimum of travelling limitations.”
The students – certainly the first-year bachelor’s and master’s students – must be able to experience real life at university as much as possible as of 1 September. The point of departure for education is therefore: on campus if possible, online if necessary. “As far as content is concerned, there may be various combinations of online and offline education, but what is feasible in our buildings?” To gain more insight into this, a trial project has been launched in the building on Tongersestraat 53. “How many students can you fit into a classroom if you apply the government’s one-and-a-half-metre guidelines? We are working on the basis of 7 square metres per person, which means that we can only use 20 to 25 per cent of our capacity. How many people then fit into a building? They all have to enter using the same door. Is that possible? And what do we need for the various forms of blended education? Imagine you have five students and a tutor in a classroom and seven who are present online. Then there will have to be a monitor in every classroom.”
The Executive Board will be assisted by professors Gerjo Kok and Rik Crutzen (both professors of Health Promotion) who are helping with communication: how can you keep the measures comfortable and how do you ensure that people adhere to them? Take, for example, the long narrow halls in the building on Universiteitssingel 50. One-way traffic is not possible there, but neither is passing someone by at 1.5 metres’ distance. “We are looking for solutions in which people can see the sense. We could perhaps use the alcoves near the toilets to step aside.”
The UM from 15 June on
Higher education is allowed to organise exams and practicals as well as counselling vulnerable students at university on a limited scale from 15 June. Exactly what that will look like at the UM, such as which students get to work in the lab, is still being looked into at the moment.