Working towards the new normal in stages
The restrictive measures imposed by the government to contain the coronavirus are slowly being relaxed. What does this mean for Leiden University, for our students and for our staff? On 19 May it was announced that from 15 June practicals and exams can take place at the University. It is disappointing for all of us that the measures are not being relaxed even further. We have set out below how we expect to structure the coming months and the next academic year, and the different scenarios we are envisioning.
The University has now been in lockdown for ten weeks, a period during which we have done almost all our work and teaching online from home. That’s an enormous achievement! It means we have also made our contribution to reducing the spread of the coronavirus and admissions to IC units. We know first-hand from our colleagues at LUMC exactly how important this is and how well it has been managed.
Now that the infection curve has flattened, the government measures are slowly being relaxed. This is a very welcome development, and we are all looking forward to resuming more normal contacts with one another. A University depends greatly on cooperation: colleagues with one another, students with teaching staff, researchers with their teams, PhD candidates with their supervisors, and managers with their staff.
However, this development does bring some difficulties with it: we now have to move from the simple message ‘everything online’, which may have had its frustrations but at the same time was very clear, to more individual arrangements. We have to look at what is possible, which will be different for every type of job or study programme, and will also depend on the specific workplace and other circumstances. And we also have to accept that changes take time, which means we cannot always implement new measures as quickly as we would all like.
We also have to bear in mind that there is still a lot of uncertainty: measures can be delayed, reversed or possibly even relaxed more quickly. To take account of this, we are working hard to prepare a range of different scenarios. Our prime concern with all these scenarios is to broaden the opportunities for research and education – our core tasks – as much as we can.
From 15 June there can be practicals and exams again in University buildings
It was announced on 19 May that from 15 June practicals and exams can take place at universities. Teaching activities can take place between 11.00 and 15.00 hrs and after 20.00 hrs, but individually tailored work is possible in discussion with transport companies and with the approval of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W). A protocol (pdf, in Dutch) has also been drawn up in VSNU for gradually restarting and scaling up educational activities at universities.
What this means for Leiden University is now under examination; first of all, by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), which is preparing a ‘service document’ with instructions for universities, then by the universities together with VSNU, and then by Leiden University itself, in the Central Crisis Team, the Executive Board and the various consultation bodies within the University.
Keep a close eye on the updates on our website for the current status and for announcements of new measures within the University.
Plans and scenarios for the coming months
We realise that this situation – the very different way of working, the uncertainty, the search for individually tailored University measures and the length of time the measures have continued – is asking a great deal of our staff and students. We are trying together to devise the best possible solutions for the strange and uncertain circumstances in which we have found ourselves for quite some time now. We appreciate that there are many questions and concerns, including at times about decisions that have been taken. We would therefore like to explain how we see the roadmap for the coming period - with all the caveats that we must continue to take into account.
When developing the plans and scenarios for the coming period, we are guided by the following principles:
- The health and safety of our staff and students are our first concern;
- We must continue to contribute to restricting the further spread of the coronavirus by working or studying at home, and using public transport as little as possible;
- We are following the instructions of the government and OCW (the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) and the guidelines of RIVM (the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment);
- We are coordinating our activities as far as possible with the other Dutch universities (within VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands) to arrive at a uniform set of policies;
- Education and research have priority;
- We are relying on the sense of responsibility, creativity and flexibility of our staff and students. At the same time, we understand that it is difficult in these exceptional times for us all to do things as we would normally do them (in a coronavirus-free society).
The work process
Developing and implementing plans: the Central Crisis Team takes decisions about the crisis measures. Matters that play out over a longer term are decided by the Executive Board, after reaching agreement in the various consultation bodies (the Teaching Consultation, the Operations Consultation and the Board of Deans) and with the staff and student participation bodies.
Staff and students will be informed via the website about new information and measures within the University. The coronavirus dossier contains updates about the decisions, and there are also special dossiers with detailed information for teaching staff, researchers, students, colleagues working from home and prospective students. Many of the answers to your questions can be found in these dossiers. You can also find information about how to stay physically and mentally fit in this period via Healthy University @Home. The faculties are also providing information via their normal channels, and managers are sharing information with their staff/teams.
Plans for working at home
Working at home will continue to be the norm: we will all still be working as much as possible from home. We are expecting that this will continue to be the case until 1 September.
- This means that we will also organise as few events as possible for staff on campus, because this would mean their having to come to the University.
- Those people who – for whatever reason – cannot work from home or would find it very difficult to work from home should discuss with their manager the possibilities of working partly on campus and/or carrying out other activities.
- It is important that you have good facilities for working at home. If you do not have adequate facilities, you should discuss with your manager the possibilities for having the use of an office chair, for example, or acquiring ICT tools.
- The relaxation in the rules from 15 June (see insert) make it possible for specific teaching activities to be carried out that can only take place on university premises. This expressly does not mean returning to work (even in part) in our University buildings, but applies to such things as practicals, small-scale (pre)clinical teaching and mentoring of vulnerable groups. For everybody else, the norm remains: work from home.
- We are currently preparing for a possible further relaxation of the rules at a later date, when we may be able to open our buildings for work again – albeit to a limited degree. To make this possible, we will introduce such measures as setting a maximum capacity per room and per building, organising one-way systems, and taking extra hygiene measures.
- If this more relaxed scenario becomes possible, managers will determine, in discussion with their teams, which members of staff can work on campus and in what circumstances. Up to 1 September, there will in any event be no obligation to work on campus.
Planning for gatherings
From 1 June, gatherings of a maximum of 30 people will be possible, and from 1 July a maximum of 100 people – but only provided attendees can maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from one another. This applies for restaurants, cinemas, theatres, the hospitality sector, and other similar sectors. Leiden University has decided that no events for staff – or as few as possible – will be organised on campus, in any case not before 1 September. This is in line with the aim of working and studying as much as possible at home. We are therefore currently preparing for a virtual opening of the academic year on 31 August.
There are some exceptions:
- PhD defences: from I June, these can again be held on campus with a limited number of people (a maximum of 20) physically in attendance, with a live stream for others who are interested.
- Graduation ceremonies: possible scenarios are currently being worked on. We are examining whether, following the relaxation of the measures from 1 June, it will again be possible for diplomas to be presented in person, provided all the current conditions are met (timeslots, one-way systems, 1.5 metres, etc.).
- The EL CID, OWL and HOP introduction weeks will have a hybrid format. The CCT is developing plans with the organising committees and other parties involved where virtual activities will be combined with introductions on campus in small groups of a maximum of 100 people, all maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres from one another.
Planning for teaching
Current academic year: 2019-2020
Teaching will in principle continue online until the end of the current academic year. With effect from 15 June, (small-scale) practicals and exams are again permitted, albeit with limitations (between 11.00 and 15.00 hrs and after 20.00 hrs, see the insert). In the period from 1 June to the end of this academic year we will give priority to:
- Examinations and/or assessments that cannot take place remotely;
- Students who are due to graduate, who without access to the building, are unable to complete their graduation assignment;
- Tutoring of vulnerable students.
If some of the teaching can be resumed on campus, students will be informed about this by their study programme.
Next academic year: 2020-2021
We hope that from September we will be able to teach on campus as usual. But we do not yet know whether there will still be any travel or other restrictions in place by then and, if so, what these will be. After the summer, starting on-campus teaching for first-year students will have priority. The most likely scenario is that from September teaching will be in a hybrid format: large-scale lectures can be online, tutorials and practicals will be on campus.
We are also setting up small-scale tutor groups to receive new students. The possibility that the group of incoming students in September 2020 will follow at least a partly digital curriculum is posing a challenge for students in both Leiden and The Hague in terms of giving them a feeling of belonging to our academic community. We are therefore going to offer a small-scale tutor system, completely in line with our Leiden Study System, to first-year students in all bachelor’s programmes, which at the same time will achieve a division into cohorts. A similar system is envisaged for incoming students of master’s programmes, although for these students the focus will be on coaching rather than on guidance. Students who are starting a bachelor’s or master’s programme will be allocated to a mini-cohort of no more than 15 students.
The small number of students per group has been chosen expressly to avoid the possibility of students fading into the background and dropping out, as can happen in larger groups. At the same time, this will result in the creation of cohorts – smaller groups that are flexible enough to manoeuvre when scarce space on campus becomes available again. The meetings will be digital and/or on campus, depending on the extent to which the government measures are relaxed. The tutor and coaching structure will provide new students with a warm welcome at the start of their study programme, and with low-threshold support and a sense of belonging as the programme continues. The system also guarantees that new students will immediately start to build a network within their study programme.
Planning for research
Our researchers are also working as far as possible from home. Where this is really not possible, for example with research that can only take place in a lab or where particular apparatus or specific documents are needed, possible individual arrangements can be discussed with the manager concerned.
The VSNU has asked the universities to draw up an estimate of the financial effects of the coronavirus crisis. An initial financial estimate of the effects for Leiden University, based on the information currently available, is now being made.