Corona crisis has made students and staff gloomy

Studying at home sucks, working from home is fine

Corona crisis has made students and staff gloomy

UG staff and students have been feeling the effects of the corona crisis, both mentally and physically. Many of them are feeling gloomier than they used to and they’re worried about their health and the economy.
7 July om 16:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 July 2020
om 16:42 uur.
July 7 at 16:42 PM.
Last modified on July 7, 2020
at 16:42 PM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

7 July om 16:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 July 2020
om 16:42 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

July 7 at 16:42 PM.
Last modified on July 7, 2020
at 16:42 PM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

This is among the results of a survey done by research agency Newcom for UKrant and eight other research university and university of applied sciences magazines in Enschede, Delft, Eindhoven, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Breda, Den Bosch, and Tilburg.

The survey paints a picture of staff and students’ experience of the last few months of lockdown during the corona crisis, in both Groningen and the rest of the Netherlands.

Less energy

Almost four out of ten UG students who filled out the survey say the corona crisis has caused a lot of nuisance (nationally, this is at 48 percent) and that it’s led to physical and psychological issues.

They’re feeling gloomier (64 percent), have less energy (56 percent), and are lonelier (60 percent). More than half the students say they’re more nervous and anxious. 

The numbers among UG staff are a little lower. A quarter of people who filled out the survey say the survey has caused a lot of nuisance. More than four out of ten employees (42 percent) are gloomier and more listless and one in three say they’re more nervous and anxious. The national numbers are pretty much the same.

Moreover, staff and students are mainly worried about the pandemic and the lockdown’s impact on the economy (44 and 41 percent), and they’re worried about the health of the elderly and vulnerable (36 and 31 percent, respectively).

Focus

The biggest sore point for UG students was their lack of focus. Three quarters of students say they find it hard to concentrate on studying now that they have to do it all from home. Half of them spend less time studying, and one in five even spends ‘much less’ time with their nose in their books. When asked to judge studying from home, students gave it a failing grade of 4.8 (the national grade was 4.7).

People do appreciate the way the UG had adapted to the situation. More than 60 percent of students rate the UG’s actions as good to very good, while a minority (11 percent) is very unhappy. Elsewhere in the country, students appreciate their research universities and universities of applied sciences similarly.

For UG employees, work stress and work-life balance were still difficult during the corona crisis. These issues were rated at a 5.7 and 6.1, respectively. 

From home

Nine out of ten UG employees only work from home. While a quarter of them didn’t like forced working from home at all, half of them would like to continue working from home for one or two days a week after the crisis (one in five indicated they’d like to work from home as much as possible). 

Working from home was rated at a 7.1, with working at work getting a 7.4.  Employees also think it’s a good thing they’ve been able to spend more time with their families (26 percent) and that they ended up exercising more (20 percent).

Positives for students are that they’ve started to appreciate family and friends more (22 percent), discovered new hobbies (21 percent), and started exercising more.

Sources

The following research university and university of applied sciences magazine participated in this survey: U-Today (University of Twente), Delta (TU Delft), Cursor (TU Eindhoven), DUB (University of Utrecht), Ad Valvas (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Punt. (Avans University of Applied Sciences Brabant), HanzeMag (Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen) en Trajectum (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences).

Four hundred staff members and students at the UG filled out the survey. The results from the various institutes were pooled, creating a national benchmark consisting of 1,202 students and 871 staff members.

This is a survey/indication, not a representative sample. 

Participation was sidelined when crisis started

Who or what is the crisis team?

Participation was sidelined when crisis started

Participation at the UG was sidelined the first few weeks of the corona crisis. There was no way around it, said university president Jouke de Vries during the university council meeting last Thursday. ‘We had to act fast.’
6 July om 14:31 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 July 2020
om 9:40 uur.
July 6 at 14:31 PM.
Last modified on July 7, 2020
at 9:40 AM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

6 July om 14:31 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 July 2020
om 9:40 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

July 6 at 14:31 PM.
Last modified on July 7, 2020
at 9:40 AM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

Once the coronavirus reached the Netherlands, the board of directors had to implement measures in order to ‘continue teaching in a responsible manner’, the UG board said.

This led to the cancellation of on-site education mid-March, research being postponed, and the UG going into lockdown. All of this happened without consultation of the university council or any other kind of participation, the university council said, criticising the process.

De Vries explained that the UG had no choice. The university had to act fast because of the actions from the government and the Groningen Safety Region.

Enormous task

The university was facing the enormous task of having to guarantee education and safety, said De Vries. ‘We had to act fast or we’d be facing a slew of different problems. To address the claim that participation was sidelined during this process… It’s possible this happened the first few weeks.’

Earlier, the university council had criticised what it felt was a not very democratic or transparent process. ‘Who decides what happens to us?’ asked Antoon de Baets with the personnel faction.

They were surprised by the sudden presence of the UG Central Crisis Team (CCT), which no one knew existed, De Baets said. They also didn’t know who was on the CCT. Nevertheless, this team was suddenly making decisions on a myriad of crucial issues while participation was pushed to the side.

9/11

However, De Vries said the CCT isn’t a new team. It was created after the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001, on the insistence of the ministry of Education. The sleeper team is activated whenever needed.

‘You need something when you have to respond quickly to a crisis’, said De Vries. He said the corona outbreak in the Netherlands met these criteria. On top of that, the UG had only limited leeway, since its actions were partly determined by the Safety Region and Groningen mayor Koen Schuiling. He emphasised the situation was normalised as much as possible afterwards. 

Chinese ambassador

The board presented a thirty-page report to the council detailing the operation of the CCT and the board over the past few months of the corona crisis.

One interesting detail is a mention of a visit to the UG by the Chinese ambassador in the Netherlands, Xu Hong. The ambassador, who is originally from the city of Wuhan where the virus first broke out, offered to exchange information about the virus and its spread with the UMCG.

The CCT then liaised between the hospital’s infectious disease department, microbiologist Alex Friedrich, and hospitals in Wuhan. 

Summer break

Summer break

By Niall Torris
30 June om 13:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 30 June 2020
om 20:16 uur.
June 30 at 13:52 PM.
Last modified on June 30, 2020
at 20:16 PM.

Another college year is over and I’m once again staring down the barrel of the summer break. Except this time, it looks very different.

This side of a vaccine for Covid-19, everything I enjoy doing is off the menu. Festivals, nights out, a trip away and a summer job to keep it all ticking over have all been cancelled. Even where these things can still go ahead, social distancing means we all have to stay far apart and in our seats. So for now, I’m mostly staying at home with a book or anything else I can find on-screen to keep busy.

At first Zoom calls and quizzes online offered a stand-in for these social interactions. We’d all sit in front of our screens, can in hand, to take a quiz or just chat away about whatever developments were happening in our lives. There’s nothing wrong with social interaction through a screen, but after a while it all just stopped. Honestly, I can’t say I really miss it all that much either.

But it’s not all bad. Groningen is a home to me, but my family home in Ireland is fantastic, too. Myself and my father sat at the kitchen table recently listening to music, drinking, and sharing a laugh. We didn’t feel great that Sunday morning after the bottle of rum, and my mother and younger brother didn’t appreciate us keeping them awake either… but it was fine, we all get along.

Groningen is a home to me, but my family home in Ireland is fantastic, too

But for some students, their home is not necessarily a sanctuary, and many students will feel alienated and exiled at home and away from their lives in Groningen. For these people, the prospect of a long stay in their hometowns with little opportunity to find outlets to allow them to be themselves is an intimidating prospect.

The security and freedoms that attachment to the University of Groningen brings to so many of us cannot be easily sent down a screen. Most of us are understandably wary of the notion that technology can offer a real solution to the new pressures and anxieties that taking a course in the middle of a pandemic are causing. But we don’t really have an option until the pandemic clears.

Thankfully, while we will surely still be unavoidably limited after summer, the university has promised hybrid learning that will see many of us back on campus next year.

It can’t come quick enough.

This is what the UG looks like after the corona crisis

Video: Arrows, tape, and signs

This is what the UG looks like after the corona crisis

There is hand sanitiser everywhere, arrows on the floors and doors, stickers saying how many people are allowed in a room, traffic signs signalling the right of way, red-and-white tape, and chains. This is what the UG will look like once the uni opens its doors again.
Video by Lidian Boelens
25 June om 12:26 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 29 June 2020
om 14:57 uur.
June 25 at 12:26 PM.
Last modified on June 29, 2020
at 14:57 PM.

Survey: How are you affected by the corona crisis?

Survey: How are you affected by the corona crisis?

Working from home and online education have become the new normal since the start of the pandemic. UKrant and other university papers are collaborating on a national survey that asks: How are you dealing with the crisis?
24 June om 11:17 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 June 2020
om 11:18 uur.
June 24 at 11:17 AM.
Last modified on June 24, 2020
at 11:18 AM.

It’s been three months since the start of the lockdown, and the rules are slowly being relaxed. Nevertheless, we’re still not all allowed inside the university, online education has become the norm, and various events (the KEI week, the opening of the academic year, the Welcoming Ceremony) have been cancelled. UKrant wants to know how this has made students and staff feel. 

In collaboration with research agency Newcom Research & Consultancy, UKrant has created a survey. This survey will not just be shared with UG students and staff, but with those of other research universities and universities of applied sciences as well (including Delft, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Twente, and Tilburg). 

We’ll be asking you questions about your mental well-being, as well as how you feel about working and studying from home. What’s working for you, and what issues are you having? How is the communication with your manager or lecturer going? But also: what do you miss most about on-site education?

We’ll be publishing the results in early July.

If you’d like to participate, please click here.

Corona speeds up Zernike renovations

Work to be largely finished by end of 2020

Corona speeds up Zernike renovations

The Zernikelaan upgrade is going much faster because of the corona crisis. Since Campus Zernike is basically deserted, construction that was planned for next year was moved up.
22 June om 16:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 June 2020
om 15:35 uur.
June 22 at 16:01 PM.
Last modified on June 23, 2020
at 15:35 PM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

22 June om 16:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 June 2020
om 15:35 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

June 22 at 16:01 PM.
Last modified on June 23, 2020
at 15:35 PM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

This means the biggest part of the renovations will be done by the end of this year, rather than somewhere in 2021, the city of Groningen reports.

The extensive upgrade is aimed at making the campus nicer and more attractive.  The bus lane, the bicycle paths, the sidewalks, and the Zernike square will all be updated, the Duisenberg pond is undergoing a metamorphosis, and the Zernikelaan itself will look like a park in places.

Path and trees

On the north side of the campus, crew have dug out ponds and created a walking path. They’ll plant trees in the autumn and plant greenery all along the Zernikelaan.

The changes to the Duisenberg pond are also taking shape. The quays will be outfitted with a steel construction. After the construction holidays, they’ll be covered with a wooden plank bridge. Construction will create a park next to the Duisenberg pond.

Safety

The bus lane has been partially renovated and on the north side of the campus, near EnTranCe, the road has been widened. A new cycling path and sidewalk have also been created. In 2019, the entrance to the campus got an extra lane and new cycling paths and sidewalks.

De route to the Crematoriumlaan has been changed and the exits from the ring road were widened to improve the flow of traffic. The city installed traffic lights to make the situation safer.

In the summer of 2021, the final part of the bus lane renovations, the bus junction, will be completed. The city will also build stands for the Willem-Alexander Sports Centre. This will mark the end of the Zernikelaan upgrade.

Longer sentence in infamous UG fraud case

Hans G. sentenced to 32 months in jail

Longer sentence in infamous UG fraud case

Hans G., the former manager of the UG’s technical department, has received a longer sentence on appeal. The court in Zwolle sentenced him to 32 months in jail. He will also have to pay damages of more than a million euros.
22 June om 15:39 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 June 2020
om 15:39 uur.
June 22 at 15:39 PM.
Last modified on June 22, 2020
at 15:39 PM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

22 June om 15:39 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 June 2020
om 15:39 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

June 22 at 15:39 PM.
Last modified on June 22, 2020
at 15:39 PM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

In May 2017, G., who is now 68 years old, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail, six months of which were probational, and damages in the amount of 450,000 euros. He appealed this decision.

But this court’s sentence is more severe than the previous one. The court says that Hans G. ‘was the key figure in this case of professional corruption’ at the university and that he took other people down with him, including his wife, his son Michael, and Michael’s girlfriend. The court said G.’s ‘impertinence [was] shocking’.

Cars and money

G. was responsible for the maintenance of dozens of UG properties in Groningen. For years, he took money from friendly construction companies in exchange for lucrative jobs at the university. He was also ‘paid’ in luxury items such as cars.

He created fake invoices to make the UG pay the bills, costing the university a little over a million euros.

Earlier, the directors of two of the construction companies were convicted, as well as G.’s son and his girlfriend. G.’s wife was acquitted by the court in Almelo three years ago.

DNA partially determines how sick corona makes you

DNA partially determines how sick corona makes you

A large international collaborative study that includes the UG, the UMCG, and bio-bank Lifelines, has found out that your DNA determines whether you get really sick from the coronavirus or whether you barely notice anything.
22 June om 14:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 June 2020
om 14:05 uur.
June 22 at 14:05 PM.
Last modified on June 22, 2020
at 14:05 PM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

22 June om 14:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 June 2020
om 14:05 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

June 22 at 14:05 PM.
Last modified on June 22, 2020
at 14:05 PM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

The study’s results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. ‘These findings can contribute to the development of a drug for Covid-19’, says Lude Franke, genetics professor at the UMCG.

The study shows that genetic factors partially determine how sick someone gets. ‘We’ve found the first DNA locations, which means we can start to figure out how those locations influence the disease and which biological processes are disrupted.’

This knowledge can contribute to the development of antiviral drugs or to finding existing medication that are known to impact those same DNA locations, says Franke.

Lifelines

Lude Franke is one of the initiators of the large-scale Lifelines corona study which aims to identify genetic and environmental factors that lead to corona infections. Tens of thousands of residents of the northern provinces are participating in the study through Lifelines.

They’ve filled out a questionnaire about their health every two weeks since the start of the corona crisis. By combining all this data, the researchers are able to notice differences in DNA.

Connection

An international research group has studied the DNA and the course of the disease in large numbers of Italian and Spanish Covid-19 patients. Franke: ‘We helped out by replicating the results, and we, too, found a connection between the progress of Covid-19 and certain DNA locations.’

In order to learn more about the coronavirus, genetic scientists from all over the world are working together through the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative. Findings from the continuing Lifeline corona study have been shared with this consortium and used for the international article.

Felipe’s vlog #4: Felipe is finally allowed to hug his family

Felipe’s vlog #4: Felipe is finally allowed to hug his family

Brazilian native Luis Felipe Fonseca Silva has been studying at the University of Groningen for two years. The coronavirus forced him to change his plan to return home in the summer. Part 4 of a vlog series: Felipe goes to the doctor to check if he has the virus.
17 June om 9:25 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 June 2020
om 9:26 uur.
June 17 at 9:25 AM.
Last modified on June 17, 2020
at 9:26 AM.

Videographer and former UKrant writer Luis Felipe Fonseca Silva is back in his home country Brazil, with his family who he hasn’t seen in a year. He spends his days in a hammock and in his parents’ garage, because he’s self-isolating. 

That also means he can’t have physical contact. Felipe is sick of avoiding people and so he goes to the doctor to get tested for the coronavirus. Good news: he’s healthy! He’s finally allowed to hug his parents and sister again. 

For UKrant, he’s doing a vlog series on his hasty goodbye, his trip back to Brazil and his time in quarantine. This is the fourth and final installment.

Racism

Racism

By Niall Torris
16 June om 12:58 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 June 2020
om 12:58 uur.
June 16 at 12:58 PM.
Last modified on June 16, 2020
at 12:58 PM.

There is a lot more connecting the murder of George Floyd, Groningen and the UG than meets the eye. These connections extend beyond the heart-warming show of solidarity where over a thousand people gathered at Grote Markt to protest racial violence and injustice recently.

Like so many people of colour, particularly in America, George Floyd met a violent end at the hands of authority. This sort of violent racism enrages all decent people and is rightly condemned when it occurs. His murder, like so many before it, would have been a note on a police report and forgotten had people not gathered as they did in Groningen and around the world to demand change.

Now, as this movement against racism grows rapidly, monuments to racism are becoming the focus of efforts to create a better world. In keeping with a timeless tradition, statues of racist oppressors like Edward Colston in the UK are being torn down by protestors around the world. Monuments to slavers rightly have no place in a better future.

It is not enough to be a silent ‘ally’ to the victims of racism without challenging the perpetrators

But while a statue commemorating the life of a racist can be taken down, it cannot ‘teach’ a child to be racist, it needs help. This help comes from parents, family, or some trusted person. They teach a child to see another person as inferior simply for their race and point to such symbols to support their assertions.

For example, Zwarte Piet offers a perfect opportunity for a racist to teach a child that Dutch culture and society supports the subjugation of certain races. While many parades recently decided to drop the blackface and change to ‘Sooty Pete’, Zwarte Piet still has its defenders and will no doubt appear in parades throughout the Netherlands.

This cultural racism can be seen in the attitudes of so many students at the university. We all know the disdainful attitude held by some Dutch students towards ‘internationals’ who come to the UG. Occasionally one will even let a comment slip out in public, perhaps emboldened by the fact that no one has challenged their views in private.

Monuments must be taken down, displays such as Zwarte Piet can be changed. But we must always remember to challenge racists from spreading their hate. It is not enough to be a silent ‘ally’ to the victims of racism without challenging the perpetrators.

Become an accomplice in the effort for change.

VU schaart zich achter Black Lives Matter en doet zelfonderzoek

VU schaart zich achter Black Lives Matter

In de rubriek ‘Intussen elders’ verzamelen we (opmerkelijk) nieuws van andere universiteiten. Deze keer onder meer: VU Amsterdam steunt in verklaring protestbeweging Black Lives Matter.
13 June om 9:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 13 June 2020
om 9:27 uur.
June 13 at 9:24 AM.
Last modified on June 13, 2020
at 9:27 AM.

VU schaart zich achter Black Lives Matter

De Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam gaat onderzoek doen naar ongelijkheid binnen de organisatie en de aangeboden lesstof. Dat doet ze naar aanleiding van de protesten van de Black Lives Matter-beweging.

De VU zegt achter die protesten te staan en wil daarom kritisch naar zichzelf kijken. ‘We kijken hoe we de kansenongelijkheid bij een academische loopbaan kunnen doorbreken zodat ons personeelsbestand een betere afspiegeling wordt van onze multiculturele studentenpopulatie.’

In een verklaring op de site van de VU staat dat de huidige ontwikkelingen vragen om ‘concrete maatregelen en een debat dat veel te lang door veel te veel mensen uit de weg is gegaan’. Daarom wil de VU ook de lesstof kritisch onder de loep nemen en kijken of die recht doet aan de diversiteit van haar studenten.

Verder wil de uni met studenten en medewerkers in gesprek. ‘Gesprekken met moeilijke vragen en pijnlijke antwoorden dwingen ons om naar ons eigen verleden te kijken, ons eigen handelen, onze eigen structuren en onze eigen vooroordelen en vanzelfsprekendheden.’

‘Kwaliteit onderwijs daalt als er meer online moet’

‘Een simpele verschuiving van fysiek naar online onderwijs haalt de kwaliteit naar beneden.’ Dat schreven UvA-hoogleraar Tom van der Meer en zijn VU-collega Jeroen de Ridder afgelopen week in een opiniestuk in de Volkskrant.

Het duo vindt dat de coronacrisis geen excuus mag zijn om studenten te weren uit de spitstijden van het openbaar vervoer.

‘Zonder verdere aanpassingen leidt online-onderwijs tot gevoelig kwaliteitsverlies, oplopende werkdruk en een verstoorde werk-privébalans bij docenten en studenten, met studievertraging, teruglopende studierendementen en burn-outs als gevolg.’ Lees het hele opinieartikel hier.

De rectoren van de Nederlandse universiteiten, onder wie RUG-rector Cisca Wijmenga, riepen beleidsmakers en het OV vorige week ook op om de student niet ‘achteraan in de rij te zetten’.

Lijsttrekker Maastricht beticht van onrechtmatig optreden

De lijsttrekker van de Maastrichtse studentenpartij Novum zou de gedragscode hebben geschonden tijdens de verkiezingen van de universiteitsraad vorige week. Meerdere studentenpartijen hebben een klacht ingediend, schrijft de universiteitskrant Observant.

Het Novum-lid Thomas Vaessen zou tijdens de verkiezingen een bericht met een link naar studenten hebben rondgestuurd met de oproep om op hem te stemmen. Wie daarop klikte, bracht automatisch zijn stem uit, zo luidt het verwijt.

Komende week houdt de afdeling juridische zaken een hoorzitting over de kwestie. Vaessen liet Observant alvast weten dat de zaak ‘kant noch wal raakt’.

The university is not a YouTube channel

Op-ed: Online classes

The university is not a YouTube channel

What will the university look like in the near future? Will it be online only? Fleur Renkema and Lennard Pierey with student party Lijst Calimero feel this would have a negative impact. ‘The corona crisis can’t just be the “new normal”.’
By Fleur Renkema and Lennard Pierey
11 June om 10:19 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 June 2020
om 10:19 uur.
June 11 at 10:19 AM.
Last modified on June 11, 2020
at 10:19 AM.

Because the corona crisis, the UG has switched completely to online classes and exams. On top of that, all university buildings are closed. This has led to problems: students are forced to study at home, sometimes lacking a proper internet connection as well as other necessary facilities.

Cheating at exams has become easier. Students miss the social interaction that on-site classes provide. In spite of lecturers’ and students’ excellent efforts, these factors contribute to a decline in the quality of education.

Nevertheless, the UG is implying that online education is the way of the future. Newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden recently quoted president of the board of director Jouke de Vries as saying that the UG is aiming to be ‘the best online university in Europe’.

This is not the kind of goals an educational institute should be striving for. This is especially relevant in light of the UG’s multi-annual vision, the Strategic Plan 2021-2026.

Digital or recorded classes certainly complement education, but they should never replace it. The transition to blended learning will take years; a crisis situation is no excuse to rush the process.

Granted, we’ve learned a lot from the current form of studying and the UG has reaped the benefits from it. We’ll be able to provide access to exams for disabled students and recording classes has turned out to be much easier than we initially thought.

But we should not get carried away by our fetish for digitisation.

Recently, the Lower House suggested that students should be banned from using public transport during peak hours even after the corona crisis has passed. This would be a disaster for the only university in the north of the Netherlands: our students come from far away.

If students can’t travel during peak hours, classes would have to be taught primarily in the evenings or online. This would only add to lecturers’ already high work stress, which would not benefit educational quality or our lecturers’ well-being.

Switching to online education would be a substantial policy change and requires proper debate. The current crisis situation isn’t and shouldn’t just become the ‘new normal’.

Fortunately, we’re not alone as students. This Monday, the rectors of all Dutch universities, including our own Cisca Wijmenga, published an open letter in ScienceGuide, asking that students be given the opportunity to participate in on-site education. This has given us hope.

Again, we say: let’s not get carried away by our fetish for digitisation in higher education. The students don’t want it. Online education should be seen as an emergency solution and should not be hailed as the future of education. The UG is not a YouTube channel.

Fleur Renkema and Lennard Pierey represent student party Lijst Calimero on the UG’s university council.

Rectors call on public transport: ‘Give students space rather than limit it’

Rectors call on public transport:

‘Give students space rather than limit it’

The timeslot in which students can make use of public transport to travel to campus is too short, say fifteen Dutch universities’ rectors, including UG’s own Cisca Wijmenga, in an opinion piece in ScienceGuide.
8 June om 16:48 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 June 2020
om 13:25 uur.
June 8 at 16:48 PM.
Last modified on June 9, 2020
at 13:25 PM.


Rob Siebelink

Door Rob Siebelink

8 June om 16:48 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 June 2020
om 13:25 uur.
Rob Siebelink

By Rob Siebelink

June 8 at 16:48 PM.
Last modified on June 9, 2020
at 13:25 PM.
Rob Siebelink

Rob Siebelink

Hoofdredacteur
Volledig bio
Editor-in-chief
Full bio

In an effort to not overload public transport during peak hours, it was decided that students can only make use of buses, trains, or subways between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Starting June 15, educational activities like practical classes, exams, and small seminars would also resume and be scheduled for the same time period.

But the rectors say this approach is too simplistic. Universities are part of a ‘lively regional and urban ecosystem, and the entire chain is affected if things continue to be locked down or only marginally accessible’, they write in a piece entitled ‘Laat studenten niet achteraan aansluiten in het OV’ (in Dutch). 

Empty and abandoned

Since the lockdown started, universities lay empty and abandoned. ‘There are no animated discussions, no groups of young people getting together to study, relax, or do research, no interactions with lecturers or researchers. Even moreso than before, we’ve realised how important human interaction is in gaining, growing, and sharing of knowledge: studying is something we do together.’

The rectors write that the students need to be given the ability to get to campus. They feel the rules should apply not only to location-based education, but for all students. ‘We’re worried that we’ll lose an entire generation of students if we can’t resume this critical physical contact soon.’

Inequality

According to the rectors, university education forms the basis for students’ personality. Unfortunately, students from different social strata don’t have equal access to digital education. Some have either no internet connection or a bad one, or can’t study at home because of family issues. ‘This crisis shouldn’t lead to an increase in that educational inequality.’

In order to make physical contact with each other, the rectors write, students should be able to travel to campus. ‘To that end, we’re asking policy makers to take current and future students’ movements into account when making plans for public transport. Don’t limit their movements, give them room.’

Felipe’s vlog #1: Covid-19 forces a hasty return to Brazil

Felipe’s vlog #1: A hasty return to Brazil because of Covid-19

Brazilian native Luis Felipe Fonseca Silva has been studying at the University of Groningen for two years. He was going to return to his home country in the summer, but the coronavirus forced him to change his plans. Part 1 of a vlog series.
8 June om 10:41 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 June 2020
om 9:28 uur.
June 8 at 10:41 AM.
Last modified on June 17, 2020
at 9:28 AM.

Felipe wanted to take two months to say goodbye to his friends in Groningen and to the city that has become so important to him. But in the end, he had to make a snap decision. He didn’t have two months, but only 24 hours.

For UKrant, he’s doing a vlog series on his hasty goodbye and his trip back to Brazil. Episode 1: Felipe says farewell to his friends.

Open letter to the new dean of graduate studies

Op-ed: PhD students

Open letter to the new dean of graduate studies

Thousands of PhD students are happy to conduct their experiments at the RUG. Yet there is an experiment that causes problems, and that is an experiment on the PhD students themselves, a group of scholarship PhD students writes in an open letter to the new dean.
3 June om 9:35 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 June 2020
om 12:22 uur.
June 3 at 9:35 AM.
Last modified on June 3, 2020
at 12:22 PM.

Dear Professor Rudolf, dear Petra,

Congratulations on your appointment as new dean of graduate studies. After the retirement of the previous dean, it took some time before a successor was found. We are very happy that it’s someone with extensive experience in Groningen, someone who is known for getting things done.

As dean, you will have the responsibility to make Groningen an even more compelling place to do your PhD. The university is already a wonderful institution for PhD research: from economics to physics, from the humanities to medical, within all scientific disciplines there are fantastic opportunities to contribute to unique, groundbreaking science.

It is a university to be proud of and a place where thousands of PhD students enjoy conducting their experiments. Yet there is an experiment that poses quite a few problems, and that is an experiment on the PhD students themselves.

Perhaps this will come a bit of a surprise, but this is an experiment that no ethics committee would ever accept: the informed consent is missing. A short summary: in exchange for a lower salary, no holiday allowance or thirteenth month, and no pension accrual, PhD students are given a little more freedom in this experiment. This is expensive freedom, because it will cost them 20,000-25,000 euros over four years.

We see no differences in activities between ‘normal’ employee PhD candidates and PhD candidates subject to the experiment

And what do they get in return? Not much, because the PhD system in the Netherlands is originally a system where freedom is of paramount importance, where PhD candidates are challenged to pursue their interests; where PhD candidates are able to perform truly independent scientific research when they obtain their degree.

In practice, we see no differences in activities between ‘normal’ employee PhD candidates and PhD candidates subject to the experiment. However, the latter group is insufficiently informed about the differences: the money and the fringe benefits they miss and the freedom they should be given for this.

Initially, 850 places were created in the experiment, and by no means everything went well here. This was raised in December 2019 in a manifesto written by the PhD students themselves, which was discussed extensively with your predecessor. However, the board of directors wanted to start a new round of the experiment around the same time, in which 650 new places would be created.

Co-governance bodies were sidelined and without a clear plan to improve the situation, an application was submitted to the minister. It stated that (although it was not yet clear who you would be at the time) you, the new dean, would start working on improvements.

That application has already been approved for some time and the University of Groningen has started recruiting new PhD students within the experiment. This is a problem, because the promised improvements are not there yet. Why are new PhD candidates being recruited for the experiment before the exact conditions are clear? The university council discussed a draft plan in May, but this was not yet complete and a new plan is promised for July. Is this not too late if the first batch is to start in September?

This is an excellent opportunity as a new dean to leave a mark on the Groningen promotion system

We call on you to think differently than you are probably used to within the UG. The university is decentralized, but central management is necessary in the case of this experiment. After all, it is the central university that is responsible for carrying out this experiment.

Provide clear informed consent at the start of the PhD program. It should be completely clear to everyone (PhD candidate and supervisors) what they are starting; provide good arrangements for travel costs, study costs and materials (such as laptops, essential in these times where we will have to work from home a lot).

Teaching is also a tricky point, make sure there are clear guidelines for this and maintain them. Ideally, we would of course like to see the grants received by the experimental doctoral candidates aligned with employee doctoral candidates. Of course we are happy to help you come up with solutions, see for example the manifesto or a recent memo from GRIN, the advocate for PhD students in Groningen.

This is an excellent opportunity as a new dean to leave a mark on the Groningen promotion system and really come up with improvements. The problems are now clear, now it is time to solve them! The undersigned, as well as the many PhD councils of the university, are looking forward to improving things together.

Sincerely,

Groningen Graduate Interest Network (GRIN), PhD students behind the manifesto and PhD candidates on the university council, Jaap Eising, María Leyva Vallina, Samuël Nelemans, Güven Kandemir, Taichi Ochi, Simon van der Pol, Jitske Sijbrandij, Farilde Steur, Fieke Visser

Best laid plans

Photo Reyer Boxem

Best laid plans

By Niall Torris
3 June om 9:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 June 2020
om 12:17 uur.
June 3 at 9:00 AM.
Last modified on June 3, 2020
at 12:17 PM.

Uncertainty has become the new normal. What’s stranger still is that questions like ‘When will the university reopen?’, ‘When can I go back to work?’, ‘Will a deadly pandemic knock on my door?’, ‘When can I hug my friends and family again?’ all have the same answer, but I can’t say when it will be known. Strange times.

While this is uncertainty is an uncomfortable experience, I’m not ready to count it as a personal disaster just yet. As I see it, it seems that over the last year I’ve managed to trip and fall blindly into some excellent developments in my life, while my best laid plans have often gone completely awry.

Around this time last year, I was offered a pre-master at the University of Groningen. Honestly, I never thought I’d get an offer. I just wanted to see what I should improve on. I snapped up the chance and by August, I had cobbled together everything I needed for a semester in Groningen. Now I’m writing for the campus paper and preparing to move sweetly into my masters. Not bad.

None of this was in ‘the plan’ and I felt that I needed a better strategy for next time.

I had a flat, a job, plenty of new friends, and, of course, a few favourite bars. What could go wrong?

So, I got to work laying out a plan for moving to Groningen full-time by this July (after my pre-master). Everything was set out perfectly, I had a flat lined up to move into, a job back in Ireland to make a little money with, plenty of new friends in Groningen and, of course, a few favourite bars (Kult and Warhol are very high on that list). What could go wrong?

Well, even the best laid plans can go awry and as is so often the case, unforeseen events have completely destroyed them. This dramatic lack of certainty has brought me the familiar feeling of a restless mind which sometimes becomes so full that it seems to go blank. But what am I to do?

With answers to end this uncertainty hard to come, by I’ve had to carve out my own opportunities elsewhere. So far, I’ve rediscovered my love of writing fiction, of playing guitar, of tackling the mountain of books sitting in my room, and of so many other things. So maybe it’s not all bad…

But I am still hoping I can come back soon.

Freedom

Photo Reyer Boxem

Freedom

By Niall Torris
19 May om 11:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 19 May 2020
om 12:29 uur.
May 19 at 11:52 AM.
Last modified on May 19, 2020
at 12:29 PM.

I’ve been pondering my freedom lately. Not just my own, everyone else’s too.

Like most internationals, I returned home as the world plunged into a quarantine borne of well-justified panic. Here in Ireland almost all businesses have closed, including, shockingly, pubs. Now, as countries slowly ease lockdown measures, I’m beginning to ponder the direction most are taking.

I’m a mixture of glad and anxious to see measures being eased. I want freedom, but not a second wave of Covid-19, so it’s important that the right decisions are made. That said, the focus on when we can get back to our commutes and see our bosses again is bizarre. Public welfare extends far beyond this.

Apparently, I’m supposed to believe that everyone will agree to go back to work in a few weeks. But once we’re off the clock, we’re only allowed to be in groups of four people, while staying two meters apart for the foreseeable future. This pairing doesn’t seem realistic, so I’m sceptical of the approach.

If people are expected to commute and work together again, I can’t see them agreeing not to travel to see family, friends, and partners. The real problem here is, if we can’t have an honest discussion about the fact that a lot of us will absolutely do these things, then we can’t have realistic plan about how to successfully ease lockdown measures.

I want freedom, but not a second wave of Covid-19 so it’s important that the right decisions are made

This lack of realism extends to many conversations about easing measures happening now. For example, if we can’t allow spectators to gather in a football stadium or pub, then can we honestly re-open schools or universities? Some say these are ‘more important’, so they should open. But Covid-19 only needs a mass of people gathered together to spread; the value we attach to their reasons for being there doesn’t matter.

Interestingly, an official from the Dutch National Institute for Health and Environment (RIVM) recently said that people should find a ‘sex buddy’ for quarantine. Conceding to the reality that we need physical and social interaction, but also reminding us to be sensible and limit close contact to as few as possible.

This isn’t a recommendation to flaunt lockdown measures. Respect them. We’re in this for the long haul and we need to acknowledge reality in our plans if we’re going to succeed. Otherwise, we’ll end up back at the start and there are too many dead already to allow that.

Think co-operatively, don’t be selfish.