“No, we will not be online until Christmas,” says rector Rianne Letschert decisively. “The faculties and I quickly agreed on that. Studying is much more than just following lessons. My predecessor Arie Nieuwenhuijzen Kruseman already said that students are here not only to gain study credits, but also life credits. And the latter can only be done by meeting fellow students and lecturers between lectures and tutorial group meetings. That is not the case now. This university is not characterised by large anonymous lecture halls, but by small-scale learning activities. Our students are part of our community, we want to have them with us, that is part of our DNA. We miss them.” To continue: “Studying is also getting to know a new city, visiting Studium Generale lectures, being a member of a study or sports association or a social club. We do not want to deprive our students of this opportunity to develop and neither does our government, we hope.” And last but not least: “If we were to go fully online after the Summer, this would also have detrimental effects for the local economy: pubs, restaurants, shops, accommodation rental firms and landlords. That must be taken into consideration too.”
On campus if possible, online when necessary. That will be the motto for next academic year. “We will have hybrid learning environments, there will be tailor-made solutions, for every study programme it will be different. After all, it makes quite a difference whether you have a thousand students or twenty-five.” But whatever solution comes out, a “substantial part of the education programmes will be on campus,” the rector assures.
The School of Business and Economics is most likely (plans are currently being detailed) going to opt for online education groups, the students coming to the faculty for the much smaller project group meetings. But it is also very well possible that a Psychology tutorial group is split into two, one half staying at home in front of their PCs, the other half in a classroom. The week after, things will be reversed. And where most study programmes will present their lectures online, the smaller programmes of the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, on the other hand, are thinking about presenting those in a large hall.
The first-year students embarking on a bachelor’s or master’s programme, will get extra attention. How many there will be, and in particular how many foreign students, is not clear yet. The national university preliminary enrolment figures are only 2.5 per cent lower than at this time last year, but internationalisation organisation Nuffic is pessimistic about the influx of internationals. The UM is not commenting on the preliminary enrolment figures. Letschert: “The first-year students are unfamiliar with the PBL system and they don’t know the city. It is possible that more education activities will take place on campus than for third-year students who are already settled here.” In addition, master’s students – who are going to graduate during a recession – will get extra help to prepare for the labour market.
In all measures that will be taken, the ‘1.5-metre campus’ will be the guiding principle. This means that the university buildings will have to be corona-proof. “We are working hard to achieve this, Nick Bos [Vice President of the Executive Board, ed.] and his team are preparing a ‘Smart Start Up’. There will be walking routes, Plexiglas screens for reception desks, posters, hand gel. Gerjo Kok [emeritus professor of Health Education, ed.] will help us with communication: how to keep the measures comfortable and how to make sure people comply with them?”
The ‘1.5-metre campus’ also means that premises can only be used partially. It is not unthinkable that temporary accommodation will be rented, says Letschert. Options include the Mecc, Pathé, or Lumière, but also other small halls. “We need to look for alternatives.” That may apply to the study spaces too. “We already have many learning spaces, the Tapijn premises have been added, as well as Spaaklaan. Maybe we will introduce time slots, but perhaps we will also need to look elsewhere.”
Letschert repeats it several times during the interview: all plans are provisional. They need to be safe and comply with the government’s corona measures. She hopes that students will also be allowed to travel on public transport during peak hours by 1 September. “It would be disastrous if such were not the case. Then we will have to restrict our education activities to the hours between 11:00 and 15:00 hrs, which means that we will have even less capacity. Of course we could also resort to the evenings, but that should be considered carefully. Our staff is already under great pressure. What would you then say to a lecturer with small children?”
Education activities will start on 1 September, the Inkom will do so two weeks before that. And the new students will then be welcome in the city too, says the rector. “It will be a mixture of face-to-face and online activities. There are many ideas and if we are allowed by that time to gather with thirty or even a hundred people, then a great deal is possible.” For first-year students who cannot travel to Maastricht (yet), there will be a full online programme, with social activities too. “Arie van der Lugt from the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences currently runs an online bachelor’s bar every Friday afternoon. They play music, discuss books, and students are meeting each other. We want to do everything to avoid a split between the students – between those who are and those who are not in Maastricht – both during the Inkom and afterwards. Students who need to stay at home, will be offered a complete education programme, including social activities.”