‘Cooperation, innovation, solidarity!’ It is the answer I give at the end of one of the regular meetings we have with the city Mayor, the rector of the University of Leuven and other key players in the city of Leuven. It is the answer to their question what we use, to cope with Corona at UCLL. The meeting itself is an example of the first. From the very start of the lockdown, there has been close cooperation with the city, the university we are closely linked with and with the government in general. In Flanders, higher education institutes worked together with the government to develop protocols to take necessary precautions but at the same time to provide quality higher education. It is that same cooperation in our own university of applied sciences that led to successful online completion of the courses of the past academic year and to safe on-campus exams next to online evaluation methods. Educational support, student guidance, campus services, teaching staff and management worked together to provide the best student experience under the given circumstances. The proof? More student success and higher grades in the first exam period!
However, we could never have done so without the innovative power that is part of our Moving Minds philosophy (UCLL’s tagline is ‘Home of the Moving Minds’). It is that same innovation that will help us start the new academic year and will allow us to cater for international students, both for degree and exchange students Our programmes have designed new ways of delivering the curriculum with hybrid education. On-campus activities will be part of that for about 50% of pre-corona times. Our expertise in online education, case studies and assignments will complete this. We cannot foresee outbreaks or government measures, but we think we have designed a system that is flexible enough to cope with that insecurity. Working like a hybrid engine, being able to change the power force, our education can change the proportion of campus activities and online education. But whatever happens we make sure that the interactive and personal character of our practice-oriented education is maintained.
Sitting at my kitchen table (we stimulated work from home) I wrote quite some messages (or blogs like these) for all of our staff. Not with instructions, but with sympathy and about solidarity. It is not simple to cope with confinement and lockdown measures and at the same time trying your best to do an excellent job in new circumstances. Teamwork and solidarity, also outside the pure formal setting, helped us through. Staff and students also showed that same solidarity in society. We created platforms to help primary and secondary schools, or parents helping their kids with their homework. We set up actions to relieve the health care workers or to provide kids with computers and tablets. Our health care students and teachers jumped in for their colleagues in hospitals. These hospitals and staff proved to be world class, especially the university hospital in the city of Leuven. It is that same solidarity that we felt among students, but also between students and staff. Our well-known study- counseling and student services, stepped up their game and were helped by students really taking care of each other and reaching out for those that were having a hard time.
A friend in need is a friend indeed, the saying goes. That is what we felt, that is how we felt. This is also how we worked with our international students last year. Giving them support, but also providing them with a network of friends. We will do the same for every student we will welcome in the coming academic year: Catering for them with coordination, innovation and solidarity.