“Can I use the Wi-Fi network?” “No? Another Wi-Fi network perhaps?” Just before eleven o’clock on Thursday, 2 January, third-year Econometrics student Rebecca Baijer approached the desk of the Student Services Centre (SSC). She wants to access the Internet – “the Wi-Fi connection in the student house is not good enough”. As a board member of student tennis association Stennis, she needs to arrange a few things for the club. She decides to try a coffee bar, because “apparently, there is no Wi-Fi connection in the university library.” She’s not worried. Her next block doesn’t start until 13 January and she doesn’t urgently need to download or upload any important study materials. There are no imminent deadlines either, “for me personally, things are not so bad.”
The Coffeelovers bar is closed; at the back, a single student is working in silence, offline of course. You could have heard a pin drop. A handful of students dropped in this morning, says Birgitte Hendrickx, member of the SSC management team. She has come in to check on her colleagues at the information desk. “I don’t expect a great rush, but it’s a good thing that we’re here. People prefer to call us, the telephone lines are busy,” she adds. Hendrickx is surprised by “how understanding” the students are. Meanwhile, a number of education systems have come online again, including the student portal, timetables and Blackboard/Eleum. But it’s a limited number, she stresses.
A little later, when Observant enters the university library, the team of three service desk members is moving a few metres back. There is too much of a draught in the reception hall. And apparently, the Wi-Fi function is allowed to be on (while in the SSC, they made it very clear that Wi-Fi was NOT allowed), “but not all services are operational,” says the IT official. A student reports to the desk with “a problem. I have entered a new password [all employees and students are requested to reset their passwords, ed.], but apparently, it’s not strong enough. So, now I need to re-enter my old password, but I can’t remember what it was!” Within five minutes, the guy’s problem has been solved. The next one asks: “Can I print anything?” No? When will I be able to?” “We don’t know, we’re working on it, but a number of other issues have a higher priority”. The info desk staff cannot help laughing when Observant ask what the most frequently asked question is. “Well, most people ask ‘how long is all this going to take’ and that is exactly what we don’t know. We are trying to solve everything bit by bit.” But it’s the same at this location: students are understanding and do not show any signs of panic. Two female students of International Business, who do not want their names in the paper. “No worries.” With a drink in their hands, they enter the library to prepare for their exams. With printed resources and books, “it’s no problem at all,” they say. Marie, second-year student of European Law School, (“only my first name, please”), has “no problems” either. She has changed her password and is able to see her timetable. That’s enough for the moment, she feels. Students are trickling into the library and leave again, but there’s definitely no rush.
What about the faculties? At the entrance of Kapoenstraat 2 – the information centre for the Faculty of Science and Engineering –Observant faces a Securitas guard. “You cannot enter just like that.” He doesn’t know anything about an information desk. He then allows the journalist to enter anyway in order to cross to the Faculty of Law at the Bouillonstraat.
In the Law building, the central hall, immediately after the entrance, is filled with staff. There are people drinking and eating. New Year’s reception? The receptionist shakes his head. “Lunchtime.” All together, around the information desk. A sign of solidarity.