MAASTRICHT. Not in the usual small hall but online: last Wednesday (8 April), the University Council had a meeting via Zoom for the first time since the corona crisis. It was especially the student fraction that is worried about the impact.
Lots of questions from students during this extraordinary online gathering, which is three committee meetings combined into one. Programmes are using a variety of online media (Google Classroom, Zoom, Skype, etc.) to organise education. Can they choose this themselves? What is the central policy on this matter, student council member Phineas Shapiro wonders? “There is none,” says rector Rianne Letschert. “Lecturers can choose which medium suits their course best.”
But are the courses always up to scratch? Not everyone is convinced of this. “There are even programmes that just put a course book online and provide the opportunity to ask questions. There are no tutorial group meetings,” says student council member Rob van der Horst. “Shouldn’t there be some minimum requirements set in order to guarantee quality of education?” Letschert: “The university has only been shut for two weeks. Many lecturers now also have to care for their children. It is too soon to speak about minimum requirements.”
Also, what if students don’t have a suitable workspace at home? Or have a poor Internet connection? “These students can report to the education page on the website,” says Nick Bos, vice president of the Executive Board. “A building has been set up [the building formerly used by Knowledge Engineering on the Bouillonstraat, ed.] with spacious study areas where student can use the UM Internet.” That is not very busy yet, says Bos somewhat relieved. “It is important that students can follow their studies, but the ministry has stated that this must be done from home as much as possible. We have to find a balance here.”
The internships for medical master’s students have halted. “Has a good solution been found for this? And what will this mean for the value of their diplomas?”, student council member Yasmin Hashish wants to know. President Martin Paul can’t say anything about that yet. As far as the quality is concerned: “At the moment this concerns a mere 2 or 3 months of a six-year programme. Students don’t need to worry.” To be continued.
Shapiro: “What about the students who work for the UM under a zero-hour contract? Will they be paid?” The university is legally required to pay salary for hours that are worked structurally with a zero-hour contract, another student noticed. Bos: “Of course we will comply with the law.” But otherwise holds: “No work means no salary. But the UM will be flexible towards students who have lost their jobs because of this situation.” They will be given extra time to look for a new job. Exactly how much time, he didn’t say.
Only the odd question came from the employee fraction of the council. Mark Govers, associate professor of Health Services Research, asked whether lecturers would be given more time to grade exams. The rector cannot promise this, but she feels it is “very important that work pressure does not rise even higher for staff.” She appealed to the students’ patience and understanding. Govers feels that this is the case.