Friday, May 8, 2020, was a very special day for me. As soon as I got to know (one week in advance) what this May 8 will be about, I couldn´t refrain from smiling all day, I was filled with joy, I very much looked forward to this specific day. And after May 8 was over, I felt the kind of satisfaction that I anticipated before: as it turned out, May 8 provided for me the only business meeting held in person for more than three months now since the middle of March. I had to present the results and experiences of the NIBS 2020 Case Competition in front of the members of the Reinhold Würth Foundation, the lead sponsor of the NIBS 2020 Case Competition, and it was the 85 years old Reinhold Würth himself, who wanted this meeting to be held in person.
It was this feeling around May 8 that made clear to me that I am a social being. During the past months I´ve come to realize how urgently I need the personal social contact, still being aware of the fact how privileged we academics are to be able to keep doing our job online and to get our monthly salary (as opposed to many people all around the world at the moment).
Germany was lucky not to be hit by the coronavirus outbreak as severely as other countries. We faced a quite strict lockdown in Germany for about 6 weeks from the middle of March till the beginning of May. Now that the infection numbers are going down the government and the local authorities take cautious steps towards normality. The school kids are slowly getting back to school again, the shops as well as the restaurants and hotels are open again, but of course everything still has to be managed under a series of hygiene restrictions and constraints. Everybody has to wear masks in public transport, public buildings and shops. You might consider it to be a fun fact that the professional German soccer league Bundesliga set off two weeks ago to finish their season (a step that is contraversially discussed in Germany) playing the matches without audience and based on a strict hygiene concept.
Like many universities all over the world we´ve been working remotely at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences since the middle of March. We will have a complete remote summer semester at our university till the end of June, followed by the exam period in July which we intend to carry out on campus (at least partly). I think this current online semester is running quite smoothly both for the students and (may be surprisingly) for the teachers as well. We are able to run nearly all the regular courses online in a combination of WebEx lectures and presentations, Skype meetings, our own e-learning platform, phone calls and e-mail communication. And on the whole the students seem to cope with the situation.
But something is missing, isn´t it?
Nearly everything that is part of a normal student life hasn´t taken place the last months for the students: the personal meetings with friends, the lively discussions in the classroom, hanging out with a bunch of fellow students in the cafeteria or in a bar in the evenings, the trips and excursions to companies, the real-life projects together with companies, meeting people from abroad, participating in international weeks, getting the flavour of different cultures by visiting other countries and so on.
For several reasons (not only as a result of the coronavirus outbreak but e.g. with respect to climate change) there will be a growing demand for the integration of digital teaching and training modules into our curricula. And there is no doubt that the modern digital technologies are amazing and provide a lot of opportunities for cross-border cooperation as well. But I really do hope that our future curricula will still include and further strengthen the opportunities for the international exchange of students, teachers and staff on a personal basis as well. Nearly all of our students who had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad ususally refer to that experience as the most valuable and enriching period of their life so far.
Meeting people from other cultures personally is key to be able to understand each other and to build friendships. The world of today provides a lot of global challenges (like climate change, like the rising inequality and economic disparity all around the globe) that require global answers. So I am convinced that an intense international exchange will be more important than ever in the years to come.
Here is my confession: Despite all the digital options I miss the personal contact with the students, the colleagues, the people from the business world. And I especially miss the opportunities to meet friends from abroad and it´s now that I fully grasp the value of having met so many great people from around the world over the last years – and of being part of this great NIBS network.
So it is my great wish for 2021 that the NIBS Conference 2021 in Budapest will give us the opportunity to meet in person again, I already look forward to it. And I´m absolutely sure I´ll be able to state after the NIBS Conference that May 12 to 14, 2021, will have been very special days for me.
All the best and take care.