Chaos

Photo by Reyer Boxem

Chaos

By Niall Torris
22 September om 16:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 September 2020
om 16:01 uur.
September 22 at 16:01 PM.
Last modified on September 22, 2020
at 16:01 PM.

Ignoring a problem until it goes away is a real speciality of mine, but occasionally, that strategy fails. In such harrowing times I switch to one of two approaches. In the first, I actually ‘deal’ with the issue and in the second I find a way to embrace the chaos and make it my own. So, what happens when both of these alternative tactics fail, too?

Over the last few weeks I, and many other students, have been subjected to a new experience: online lectures. For me, accessing basic things ‘online’ brings back nostalgic memories of my rural Irish youth with little to do around me except for an internet full of things to pass the time. Nestor is easy enough to use. What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, a lot can go wrong. It’s only week 3, but already I’ve had a lecture stream crash, another stream didn’t even start (until it was almost over) and recordings have disappeared afterward. It’s understandable though. Many academics are struggling to get to grips with the new technology and we all need time to adapt. But there is one simple thing they should change, now!

It’s truly infuriating to read every passing thought anyone might have in the chat

Please, for the love of God, turn off the chat during lectures. It doesn’t need to be on, ever. If someone wants to ask a question, or contribute, just have them click their ‘hand’ up and then turn on their microphone to speak, like we do normally. Letting everyone type out passing comments and press enter, putting it all right in our faces, is too chaotic and interrupts way more than it helps.

I love my course and colleagues, I do. But it’s truly infuriating to read every passing thought anyone might have in the chat or ask if something’s wrong with the stream or just their own Wi-Fi (spoiler: it’s the Wi-Fi). If chat is a must, why not just put us all in breakout chats? Then we can chat in a small group, like if we were sitting together. We can even ignore each other there too, just like real life.

Of course, that’s the practical solution that would actually ‘deal’ with the issue. But maybe I’ll just have to embrace the chaos and make it my own.

Besides, when else will I get the opportunity to ask 100+ people if my connection is slow or if it’s the professor’s?

‘It seems crazy to me that people are not wearing masks’

Internationals anxious about laid-back Dutch

‘It seems crazy to me that people aren’t wearing masks’

International students are concerned about the general negligence behind the recent increase of coronavirus cases in Groningen. While their families face lockdowns and severe restrictions around the globe, the Stadjers seem unfazed. ‘It’s as if corona never existed here.’
By Alessandro Tessari
22 September om 12:50 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 September 2020
om 19:41 uur.
September 22 at 12:50 PM.
Last modified on September 22, 2020
at 19:41 PM.

When psychology student Violeta Ricoy Roig arrived from Spain three weeks ago, she was shocked by the vast difference in people’s behaviour between the EU countries. ‘In Spain, but even in Belgium, where my boyfriend lives, people seem much more concerned about corona. Everyone wears a face mask’, she says. The ‘carelessness’ in the Netherlands makes her anxious, especially in supermarkets and when she visits the city centre. She’s not the only one who feels this way.

Confused and worried

‘It seems crazy to me that people aren’t wearing masks in restaurants and cafes, not even waiters’, says Monique Gilpin, a media studies student from Australia. Her family in Melbourne is facing a second lockdown. Just one person at a time can leave the house and only for one hour. They have to stay within a five-kilometre zone around their house and they have to wear masks everywhere. ‘My family is confused and worried about the situation here. They struggle to understand how everything is so laid-back.’

With so few precautions taken, she’s not really surprised the number of confirmed cases in Groningen has risen. But she’s more apprehensive about the general conduct of students here. Monique hasn’t seen her family since January. ‘If things get worse, I might not even go back for Christmas.’

International business student Carlo Vincenzini also doesn’t want to get stuck in Groningen because of the ‘poor measures’ here. He was on lockdown for two months with his family in Bahrain, and that was more than enough. ‘I am anxious about being isolated again, but when I look at how people behave here, it’s as if corona never existed.’

Stricter measures

Carlo thinks masks should be obligatory in restaurants and supermarkets, too, not just in public transport. ‘Wherever there is a risk of having more than ten people in a limited space.’

Hassan Al Ameer, medicine student from Saudi Arabia, agrees. ‘Current restrictions are not enough’, he says. ‘We need more.’ Wearing a mask is just being responsible and thinking of the people around you, he says. ‘I understand that nobody really knows what to do, that these are unprecedented times, but I want people and institutions to take action. Otherwise the situation in Groningen and the Netherlands could get much worse rapidly.’

Video: New sport isn’t just for machos

Video: New sport isn’t just for machos

Students in Groningen have discovered a new sport: calisthenics, a combination of strength training and gymnastics. And that isn’t just fun for macho men, says the man behind Caliclub.
Video by Rianne Aalbers
16 September om 11:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 September 2020
om 11:45 uur.
September 16 at 11:40 AM.
Last modified on September 16, 2020
at 11:45 AM.

Five members of Albertus also infected with coronavirus (UPDATE)

Five members of Albertus also infected with coronavirus (UPDATE)

After it was announced on Monday that people at Vindicat and the dentistry programme had been infected, it now turns out that five members of student association Albertus are also infected with the novel coronavirus. Infections at Dizkartes and rowing club Gyas have also been reported.
By Christien Boomsma and Remco van Veluwen
15 September om 13:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 September 2020
om 11:34 uur.
September 15 at 13:23 PM.
Last modified on September 16, 2020
at 11:34 AM.

The GGD’s contact tracing has determined that the infections did not occur at the Albertus premises. ‘Right now, we have five people who came to us to say they tested positive for the coronavirus. They are five individual cases, which means the infections can’t be traced back to a cluster of people who were in the same group’, says vice president Ruben van Rossem. It’s unclear exactly how the student got infected.

All five students are suffering from mild symptoms. The GGD is in contact with the Albertus board about their progress. ‘We’ve also asked our members to inform us if they’re infected with the coronavirus so we can track it’, says Van Rossem.

Not shutting down

As it stands, the association won’t have to cancel any activities. ‘But the situation has certainly made us more aware of what’s happening. We’ll keep in close contact with the GGD and will be following their advice, but we’ll continue to operate as usual for now’, says Van Rossem.

‘Fortunately, we haven’t had to consider shutting down, in part because it’s just a few infections that can’t be traced back to Albertus. However, we will continue to emphasise to our members that they shouldn’t be gathering in large groups and that they should follow corona rules both at and outside the association.’

How many people have been infected at rowing club Gyas is not yet clear. Dizkartes knows about one infected member, so far.

Vindicat

On Monday, student association Vindicat did decide to shut down their club house Mutua Fides until at least Wednesday, after fifteen members turned out to be infected.

No one knows where people got infected. ‘But we don’t think it was during the introduction week’, says Vindicat rector Wessel Giezen. ‘Most of the infected students are seniors.’

The infected students are suffering mild symptoms like a light fever and a cold. ‘But we told all our members that no matter how mild your symptoms are, you have to call the GGD and get tested’, says Giezen.

Dentistry

The students working at the Centre for Dentistry and Dental Hygiene are also suffering mild symptoms. They decided to get tested as a precaution. After the infections came to light, the UMCG Infection Prevention department started an investigation. ‘This investigation showed that the students did not get infected at the UMCG, nor did they spread the virus at the UMCG’, says spokesperson Janneke Kruse. The hospital doesn’t know how the students did get infected.

The infected students are self-isolating at home until they are symptom-free for at least 48 hours. As an extra precaution, other students from both programmes have been asked to get tested for corona as well. All of them complied; none of them were infected.

Navigators

It’s unclear whether the students are members of Christian student association Navigators, which earlier reported thirteen cases of Covid-19. The number of infections at the association has risen to twenty-nine in the meantime. ‘Some of them no longer have symptoms and are allowed to leave quarantine. Fortunately, students still only have mild symptoms’, says externus Rixt Oving. 

As of right now, no one knows the source of the infections. The GGD is still working on its investigation tracing the students’ contacts.

The Navigators have cancelled all planned activities for the foreseeable future. The members fully understand and are sympathetic towards the actions, Oving says. ‘They think the way things are going is only logical. It’s completely clear that this is how we’re handling things right now, so everyone is cooperating.’

Return

Photo by Reyer Boxem

Return

By Niall Torris
9 September om 9:10 uur.
September 9 at 9:10 AM.

If you’d asked me how I felt about returning to Groningen a week ago, I’d have one word. Anxious.

The regular anxieties of moving across the continent (or the world) are enough to get anyone worked up. Have I packed everything? What time is my train? Will I find housing? But this year was different. As I walked into Dublin airport to make the journey to Groningen once more, I was met with a wave of new worries.

Questions were racing. Is this mask good enough for a plane? Will it take airport security longer with all the Covid checks? Or shorter, with so few travelling? I really hoped they wouldn’t want to shove a cotton swab up my nose; though I would have agreed if asked (I got lucky there).

As it turned out, I got through Dublin airport pretty quickly and, in a case of untold luck, the Ryanair pilot was allowed to take off 15 minutes early because everyone was already on the plane. There were no issues at Schiphol either. I got on the train to Groningen and I was on my way (after having to quickly switch trains back to grab my passport, which I’d left behind in an airport shop).

University is about so much more than just education

As I sat on the train to Groningen, for the second time, my mind drifted to what I was going to find when I arrived. The familiar sites of the UB, Academy building, UKrant offices, Kult and Grote Markt are all as familiar to me as Dublin. Groningen is really a such second home now that I sometimes forget I’m in Holland and not Ireland.

But as the train barrelled along, I found myself gripped by worry. Looking back, I’d say it I was the fear of missing out. Now, I’ve no doubt UG will have my education up to their usual high standards, but university is about so much more than that, isn’t it?

To me a big part of uni is sitting in a lecture hall, or a pub, and meeting new people. Sharing a joke, chatting and maybe starting a new friendship. I was worried about losing out on all that. But I shouldn’t have been. While everything is a little different, Groningen is still my second home and a city I love.

And if you asked me how I felt now I’m back, I’d still have one word for you. Delighted.

More money for staff who want to buy new laptop

More money for staff who want to buy new laptop

The board of directors wants to address the needs of staff working from home by increasing the UG laptop reimbursement. They’re also looking at other ways to support lecturers. Because at least for now, online education is here to stay.
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
1 July om 12:06 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 1 July 2020
om 12:26 uur.
July 1 at 12:06 PM.
Last modified on July 1, 2020
at 12:26 PM.

This is our last interview before the summer. We’d like to know how previously discussed issues are working out. One of them is the reimbursement of tuition fees for students who pay institutional tuition fees and are suffering a delay because of corona. What’s new on this front?

Hans Biemans: ‘We’ve decided to follow minister Van Engelshoven’s recommendation regarding non-EU students. That means that master students who are forced to re-enrol but graduate before February 1, 2021, will be reimbursed three months of their tuition fees.’

Three months of legal tuition fees?

Hans Biemans: ‘No, it includes tuition fees above the statutory minimum. That means the fees that they would normally pay.’

Why will you only be reimbursing non-EU students paying institutional tuition fees?

Hans Biemans: ‘It only applies to non-EU students since EU students can turn to DUO for help. Non-EU students don’t have this option.’

Earlier, you said you were working on a plan to make sure that people’s home office would comply with health and safety. How’s that going?

Hans Biemans: ‘Last week, we decided to expand the laptop arrangement. Other than that, we’re still working on determining what people need and what we can give them. If we want to have a hybrid form of education, we have to ensure that everyone can participate, that it’s sufficiently interactive for people participating and that our technology is good enough to organise online classes.

The technical aspect involves having the right equipment and the human aspect involves teaching lecturers and support staff how everything works. We’re working on that right now; we feel that we’re supporting lecturers by providing them the facilities to teach online.’

Can you explain how you expanded the laptop arrangement?

Hans Biemans: ‘People can buy their own laptop and get reimbursed up to a certain amount. It’s an existing arrangement, but it’s been changed retroactively. We’re increased the amount of money people can get back, allowing them to buy more expensive laptops. Hopefully, that will add some comfort to working from home.’

Last week, the government announced drastic relaxations of the corona rules. For the university, this means that students will be able to use public transport to get to class outside of peak hours. How will this affect the educational plans for students?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Obviously, we don’t have a say in how faculties organise their education. The whole public transport thing was less of an issue here in Groningen since a lot of student bike to class. But I think the biggest issue is with buildings and how we’re allowed to use them, since that determines how many people are allowed inside. Nothing’s changed there; we still have to keep our distance.

We still feel that everyone should have access to education, which is why we’ll continue offering it online. But we do want to move towards a hybrid mode. We’ve seen people’s disconcerted reaction to this, so it’s important to clarify that we want classes to be available both live and online, at the same time. We don’t want lecturers to have to repeat the same class.

It’s like how we organised PhD ceremonies: we were able to relax some of the rules and allow more people inside. But some of them still had to watch it online. It would be a great way to involve everyone in education. It’s not like our ideas have changed after last Wednesday. The only question is how we’ll make everything work.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘Once we figure out online education, I don’t think it would be hard to combine it with on-site classes. What if there’s an unexpected second wave and we have to go into lockdown again? We have to make sure we can provide education online. Anything that can be done on site is icing on the cake.’

Will we even be able to have large groups of students in a single room again?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘I don’t think so. I don’t know how big all the lecture halls are, but we do have to keep our distance from each other. Big lectures will have to be cancelled. Perhaps it would be better to do those online anyway. People can actively listen to the online lecture and then attend a seminar to discuss the subject in more depth. We have to focus more on the added value of people gathering.’

The rectors at the University of Maastricht and University of Leiden were angry with education minister Van Engelshoven last week. They feel she keeps saying the wrong things and that she doesn’t know anything about how universities work. Do you understand why your colleagues are angry? 

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘I understand where they’re coming from and it’s not like I totally disagree. I think it could be said that other ministers treat their supporters better than the minister of education does.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘Of course we say things ourselves, like how it’s not smart to work nights and weekends. But I think it’s too easy to use Twitter to respond to the minister’s statements. Most of the time, she didn’t actually say it like that, and managers end up having to apologise for their excitable tweeting.’

Maastricht created a five million corona fund in an effort to deal with the effects of the crisis. How do you feel about this?

Hans Biemans: ‘All universities are supporting their lecturers. Maastricht has decided to call it a corona fund. We’re working on it too: we’re getting the support necessary for the technical side of online classes, we’re making sure the equipment is up to date, and we’re helping people work from home. I don’t really know how much money we’re spending on that without a calculator.’

Maastricht has explicitly said the money is to ease work stress, which the corona crisis has only made worse. In other words, they want to hire more people.

Hans Biemans: ‘We don’t know how many students will be registering with us yet. It’s difficult to hire more people when we don’t know how many we’ll actually need. And even if we just hire support staff, we’d still have to train them, which would increase other people’s work stress. It would take a while before these people could actually start working.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We can’t just say that we’ll be hiring more people, because we don’t want to stir up expectations. It’s a delicate subject. Perhaps lecturers are better helped with student assistants than extra support staff. Those are things we need to figure out before saying anything about this.’

‘On-site education is here to stay, but it needs improvement’

UG: On-site education here to stay, but needs improvement

Last week, the discussion about online university education reached a nadir. But the UG board never meant they wanted to do away with on-site education. Even before the corona crisis, they wanted to move towards a hybrid form of education.
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
24 June om 11:04 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 June 2020
om 12:27 uur.
June 24 at 11:04 AM.
Last modified on June 25, 2020
at 12:27 PM.

Do you have a question? 

Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.

Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to uk@rug.nl

People have had a lot to say the past few weeks about the way you’ve embraced online education. Student party Lijst Calimero says the university isn’t a YouTube channel, Casper Albers wrote in his UKrant column that online education would mean the death of the university, and in his column, Gerrit Breeuwsma said that the board of directors should do absolutely everything they can to continue on-site education.

Jouke de Vries: ‘How much on-site education we’ll be able to provide depends on the number of corona cases. But what we meant was that the digital revolution set in motion by corona has led to developments we’ll be able to incorporate in our regular operations. They’re developments we want to use to broaden the university.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘I can’t remember we ever said anything that wasn’t in favour of a hybrid model. We want to combine the best of both worlds.

On-site education will have to improve, though. We can’t have lecturers just info-dumping on students, that needs to change. They could do the prep work online from home and focus more on community and mutual inspiration in class.’

You were already talking about improving classes, either with or without digital help, before the corona crisis broke out.

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We were. Digitisation doesn’t mean online education only. But we can definitely utilise the developments from the last few months. It’s a tool that will help us to do things differently. We’d been working on it before the pandemic, but this has sped up the process.’

Hans Biemans: ‘Corona has clearly made this discussion more relevant. I especially hope the discussion inspires people who’ve got ideas. People with insights about how to improve on-site education, or even online education. Columns are a great way to share your thinking, but I mainly hope that it inspires people to share their visions. We can learn from them.’

The ISO said last week that the corona crisis has led to an increase of students with a study delay by 54,000. Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven replied that universities should be teaching classes at night and on weekends in an effort to make up for that…

Jouke de Vries: ‘That is a misquote, based on an article in ScienceGuide. It’s not actually what she said. People made way too big a fuss. I think the minister meant to say that something needed to be done to make up for the delays, and that she’d leave it up to the universities to decide whether that would involve evening or weekend classes.’

What are the UG’s plans in this regard?

Jouke de Vries: ‘Work stress at the university is at an all-time high, so we’d like to prevent people having to teach extra classes. But if it’s necessary and people volunteer, it might be an option. But it’s a big thing, since it wouldn’t involve just a few researcher or lecturers. Support staff would have to stay late as well. I’m not sure that’s a good idea, since people have already been working so hard lately.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We can’t make it seem like we want even more from people right now. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done before the new academic year in September, and that’s taking a lot out of everyone as well. I don’t think we should be asking people to add even more work to their plate.’

It’s unclear how many students will actually come to the UG next year. The University of Maastricht decided to send all its students, not just first-years but older ones as well, a survey to ask them whether they’ll be attending the uni in person or if they’re staying home. 

Hans Biemans: ‘That’s an option, but many students don’t even know themselves right now. It’s a relevant question, but international students, for example, don’t even know if they’ll be able to travel here yet.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Seniors who might not be coming back to Groningen still need education. We’ve promised them that online education will be available no matter what. It would be good to know how many actual people we can expect, but we still have to provide online education. That means lecturers need to know how to properly teach online classes.’

Students get rid of potato parasite

Potato cyst nematodes cause a lot of damage for farmers. Photo: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, CC BY 3.0

Students get rid of potato parasite

Kim van Maldegem and Jelle Molekamp will not be enjoying a relaxing summer this year: they’ll be participating in the international student competition iGEM, fighting potato cyst nematodes.

By Marjanne van der Bijl
15 June om 17:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 June 2020
om 20:05 uur.
June 15 at 17:00 PM.
Last modified on June 15, 2020
at 20:05 PM.

You’ve just planted a field full of potatoes, only for hungry little worms to come and eat the roots of your plants. There goes your harvest. Farmers aren’t happy: potato sickness causes them to lose 460 million euros in profits in Europe alone. 

What’s worse, the worms, potato cyst nematodes, are difficult to eradicate. In their cysts, they can survive underground for at least twenty years. Killing them involves flooding your entire field or using chemicals.     

But if molecular biology student Kim van Maldegem and molecular neurosciences student Jelle Molenkamp have anything to say about it, there will soon be a better way to fight the parasite. 

Biological machines

They and ten other UG students have been working on the project since February. They’ll be participating in the international annual competition iGEM, which will take place in Boston in late October. Multidisciplinary student teams from all over the world are using the latest techniques available to build biological machines that aim to solve a societal issue. 

The team the UG is sending this year has an environmentally friendly plan to protect potato plants. ‘As they are now, the nematodes move towards the plants, but we’ll be trying to get them to go the other way’, says Jelle. 

How will they be doing that? ‘We’re changing a bacterium that lives near the plant in such a way that it will secrete a certain neuropeptide.’ A neuropeptide is a molecule that works as a signal in the brain. In this case, it will tell the nematodes that they have to leave. Since the peptide will specifically target potato cyst nematodes, it won’t affect biodiversity, the students expect.

Practice

There’s just one issue: they haven’t been able to test their ideas in practice, since students haven’t been allowed inside the university labs due to the corona crisis. 

‘That was a bummer’, says Jelle. ‘Many people on our team have a lot of lab experience. That was one of our strong points and we were kind of banking on it, since we could get results and therefore a lot of points in the competition. When we were told we couldn’t go to the lab, we were really upset.’ 

But, says Kim, the team would not be defeated. ‘As we say here in Groningen: kop d’r veur! Keep going! We turned the disadvantage into a positive.’ The students decided to shift focus from the lab to digital models. They’ll still be working out the experiments they wanted to do in the lab.

Image

They also started another project: a massive open online course for laypersons with an aim to improve the image attached to genetic modification. The curriculum will be online in September. 

‘Many people think genetic modification is scary’, Kim explains. ‘But as long as you stick to the ethical rules, it can be really useful. It has the potential to lead to beautiful things.’

The iGEM team is raising money for their project through crowdfunding. Would you like more information? Email igemgroningen2020@gmail.com

Felipe’s vlog #3: A face mask as a political statement

Felipe’s vlog #3: A face mask as a political statement

Brazilian native Luis Felipe Fonseca Silva studied at the University of Groningen and was going to return to his home country in the summer, but the coronavirus forced him to change his plans. Part 3 of a vlog series: the differences between Brazil and the Netherlands.
15 June om 11:36 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 June 2020
om 9:27 uur.
June 15 at 11:36 AM.
Last modified on June 17, 2020
at 9:27 AM.

Videographer Felipe is back in Brazil with his family who he hadn’t seen in a year. He notices that his home country handles the corona crisis very differently from the Netherlands. 

In Brazil, wearing a face mask is a political statement, for example. It shows you protest the Bolsonaro government, which according to critics hasn’t done enough to counter the spread of the virus. 

For UKrant, he’s doing a four-part vlog series on his hasty goodbye, his trip back to Brazil and life in quarantine. 

You can’t work on a dining room chair

Associate professor of social psychology Katherine Stroebe at work at her kitchen table.

Board wants to facilitate working from home

You can’t work on a dining room chair

The board is thinking about using the employee bonus to facilitate them working from home. With hybrid education being a likely reality, employees need better seats than their dining room chairs. ‘We have to take the future into account when thinking about the new normal.’
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
10 June om 11:33 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 June 2020
om 11:16 uur.
June 10 at 11:33 AM.
Last modified on June 24, 2020
at 11:16 AM.

Do you have a question?

Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.

Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to uk@rug.nl

In late April, we talked about the hundred-euro bonus the staff of the University of Utrecht received because they were working from home. You said you were considering a bonus for UG staff, as well. Have you decided on that yet?

Hans Biemans: ‘Back then, we were considering a bonus to cover the costs of our employees for working from home temporarily. But it’s been three months. Since hybrid education will be the norm in 2020-2021, employees will have to partially work from home even longer. Very few of them have a proper office at home, or a good desk chair. We have to look at the fiscal side still and make some decisions.’

So you’re considering using the bonus to help out staff with working from home?

Hans Biemans: ‘Offices at the university have to meet specific conditions. If UG employees are forced to work from home, their home offices have to meet these standards, too. We have to consider the future when we think about the new normal, to make sure we can keep it up.’

Last week, you decided to allow exchange programmes to go through in the first semester of next year. Many people will be glad to hear it. Why did you decide this?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We left it up to the faculties. In some programmes, doing an exchange is mandatory, and we wanted to give the faculties the opportunity to decide for themselves.’

The Faculty of Economics and Business has stated it won’t allow any exchanges. Some students don’t understand why there isn’t a university-wide policy about exchange programmes. Can you explain that?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘The faculties are autonomous and vary when it comes to education. We have had this discussion before, about exams. Our decision allows the faculties maximum flexibility to decide for themselves.’

Lijst Calimero proposes to charge international students who are currently paying institutional tuition fees and who won’t graduate before the end of summer only legal tuition fees. The Erasmus University has already made this change. How does the UG feel about this?

Hans Biemans: ‘Universities have to legally charge non-EU students the cost price. Cross-subsidisation with public funds isn’t allowed. So the decision isn’t up to us.’

The same rules apply to the Erasmus University, and they made it happen.

Hans Biemans: ‘I was surprised by that. I had our lawyers ask Erasmus how they did it, but they haven’t got back to me yet. I can imagine the ministry of Education making an exception if all a student has left to do is graduate. 

The assumption is that only people who already should have graduated would need it, which would greatly reduce the cost for the university, since it’s only a few extra months at most. We do have to think about how to separate the people who suffered delays due to the corona measures from people who suffered delays for other reasons. There are some remaining questions. Are we allowed to do it? And under what conditions?’

Last week, the VSNU said that the number of students enrolling in universities is more than 6 percent higher than last year. How is Groningen doing?

Jouke de Vries: ‘The April 1 numbers showed a slight decline, but that was corrected in May. We’re talking about students enrolling, not officially registering: they have until October 1 to do that. We won’t know the real numbers until then.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘The enrolment numbers are a little higher than average. Students often take a gap year, but many of them can’t right now. Where will they find a job? They can’t really travel, either. But we can’t predict what that means for next year. Students might be enrolling at multiple universities. We’ll have to wait and see.’

Felipe’s vlog #2: From Ghent to Groningen to Brasilia

Felipe’s vlog #2: From Ghent to Groningen to Brasilia

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 2 of a vlog series: The long journey home.
9 June om 11:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 17 June 2020
om 9:27 uur.
June 9 at 11:24 AM.
Last modified on June 17, 2020
at 9:27 AM.

How do you get from locked down Ghent (Belgium) to the Brazilian capital Brasilia by way of Groningen during a pandemic?

It cost Felipe a lot of time and money and even more worrying, but he made it in the end. For the first time in a year, he could be with his family again. That is to say, at a distance, because Felipe has to spend two weeks in quarantine first. 

For UKrant, he’s doing a four-part vlog series on his hasty goodbye and his trip back to Brazil.

UG board is considering dedicated student bus line

‘Room for interpretation of transport rules’

Board is considering dedicated student bus line

The board of directors is thinking in terms of solutions. They can only find out what works through experimentation. That means proctoring software is still an option, as well as a dedicated bus service for students.
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
27 May om 12:32 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 2 June 2020
om 16:22 uur.
May 27 at 12:32 PM.
Last modified on June 2, 2020
at 16:22 PM.

Do you have a question? 

Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.

Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to uk@rug.nl

The university is allowed to restart education activities on a small-scale basis. We’ll be able to have practicals again, and exams that can’t be administered online can be administered in person. But everything has to take place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. in an effort not to overwhelm public transport. What does this mean for the UG?

Jouke de Vries: The time slot is to prevent students from travelling on public transport during rush hour. Right now, it’s set between 11 and 3, but in reality it will last until 8 at night, since students will be allowed to stay at the university. This leaves room for various approaches. We’ll have to confer with the Safety Region Groningen about what’s possible in Groningen.

Overarching university organisation VSNU published a protocol that specifically states that education activities are not allowed to start or end between 3 and 8 p.m.

Hans Biemans: ‘The goal is not to overwhelm public transport. The protocol isn’t meant to regulate the functionality of universities. As long as we can guarantee that public transport won’t be overwhelmed, I think there’s room for interpretation. Fortunately, many students bike in Groningen.

It also looks like there’s room for a regional interpretation of the relaxation of the rules. What will this look like at the UG?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Take the buses that really only students use, like bus 15 to Zernike or the number 4 to UMCG Noord. We could make arrangements with the local transport authorities about a dedicated bus service to students. I don’t think we strictly need to adhere to the 11-to-3 rule, but we’d have to decide that on a case-by-case basis.’

Hans Biemans: ‘We’ve been in contact with authorities like the municipality and regional transport companies for several years now, staying up to date on the construction on the southern ring road and railway work. They’ve now joined the Safety Region, so we can use our experience with them in those conversations as well.’

The measures the university needs to take to slowly re-open all cost money. Who’s footing the bill?

Hans Biemans: ‘Right now, we are. We’ve also agreed with the VSNU to provide an overview of the costs, such as adjustments to our IT facilities and buildings, but also a potential loss of income caused by fewer students enrolling with us. 

We’ll be keeping track of all that. Universities will eventually compare the costs to create an overview of what the sector is dealing with. Then we’ll talk to the State to find out whether we’re a service that should be given priority. I can imagine they might want to help us by stimulating those areas that develop the kind of knowledge that can help with this health crisis. In other words, an investment in the future, rather than a remuneration of costs incurred.’

That sounds like a Van Rijn move in disguise: investing in the science programmes since we’ll be needing them in the future. Wouldn’t you run the risk of making relatively little extra money on degree programmes, resulting in the humanities, for example, taking on the brunt of the extra costs?

Hans Biemans: ‘No, I don’t think so. I think this crisis is teaching us new things. The experiences and problems we’re encountering right now go beyond hard science. I think arts and social sciences will have a renaissance.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘Like Hans says, this crisis is bringing the importance of other issues to the foreground. There’s the matter of loneliness, which would require research into interpersonal relationships. How do these relationships work? How can we maintain social cohesion? The hard sciences won’t be able to answer those questions.

If we can set up partnerships with other northern partners, corporations, and institutes, the university could serve as a key player in economic development in certain fields. That’d be interesting; it’s an opportunity to match relevant research to current issues while also stimulating the economy.’

The Erasmus University looked at another possible effect of the corona crisis: stress among students and staff. It turns out people were suffering from an increase in stress. Have you been seeing anything like this at the UG?

Hans Biemans: ‘Right now, there’s a study into our students’ well-being that’s being conducted. In the recent past, we commissioned research into the pressure of work and stress among employees. There are various elements at play. One issue people face is not having the right equipment, so they’re not adequately prepared to face this new kind of working. 

Another issue is that people feel like they can’t match their own standard of working. All these elements are causing extra stress, and we’re aware of that. We’re trying to overcome that by focusing less on research and more on education.’

Last week, student party SOG called for more understanding for students in this situation. They feel like they’re being left out and that their efforts should be appreciated more. How do you feel about that?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Everyone, including students, is having a hard time right now. Young people might have it worse because they’re so used to having an active social life, and suddenly they’re all stuck in their room. I understand why they might not feel heard, but millions of people in the Netherlands are going through the same thing as they are.’

Hans Biemans: ‘We can’t personally comfort more than thirty thousand students. But also understand their worries and issues. That’s why we have been voicing our appreciation for everyone over the past few weeks in our updates, because it’s thanks to everyone’s efforts that the online university is working out. Reading SOG’s letter, I feel that everyone should be taking care of each other right now. Think about your friends every once in a while. Has someone dropped off the radar? Contact them. The board is powerful, but we’re not omnipotent and we have to find solutions to keep research and education going.’

Speaking of solutions: in April, you tested proctoring software during a statistics exam. You’ve seen and discussed the assessment. What are the conclusions?

Hans Biemans: ‘The most interesting conclusion is that proctoring can’t detect every single instance of cheating. That means it’s not a solution that works for everything, just like oral exams aren’t.

There’s a memorandum about online exams and proctoring which includes the outcomes of the experiment. It discusses the various aspects we have to take into account, like the GDPR, the kind of education it could be used for and the risks inherent to its use.

We want to learn from these experiences, but also from other universities’ experiences. We also want to talk to the Dutch Data Protection Authority about using the software. So we’re not making any decisions right now, but we are exploring our options of how to implement something like this.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘We have to explore our options, since online exams will be with us for a while. Of course, we’re considerate of the doubts that some people, like the students, have, both on a national and an international level.

At the same time, what if the coronavirus comes back and we have to go back into lockdown? We have to have a back-up plan, and this could be the way to continue administering some online exams.’

International students don’t have to fly back for practicals

UG sticks to online policy

International students don’t have to fly back for practicals

International students who have returned to their home countries can continue their online education for the remainder of the academic year. The UG will stick to the existing policy. Plans for practical classes have yet to be developed.
By Yelena Kilina
26 May om 15:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 May 2020
om 12:37 uur.
May 26 at 15:42 PM.
Last modified on May 27, 2020
at 12:37 PM.

The Dutch government announced last week that on-site teaching, exams and practical classes at universities can resume to a limited extent on June 15. But the UG has decided that most classes and exams will be online until at least the start of September, meaning international students won’t have to return. 

‘We will find a solution in case of any exceptions’, says Roel Jonkers, vice dean of the Faculty of Arts. The same goes for all the faculties which don’t run labs. ‘For the most part, the new measures do not really change anything for our faculty’, says Erin Wilson, vice dean of Theology and Religious Studies. 

The vice dean of Behavioural and Social Sciences, Klaas van Veen, only says that his faculty will follow the Central Crisis Team policy. 

Practical classes

For medical and science students, practical classes are particularly important. According to UMCG press officer Joost Wessels, the majority of international medical students have decided to stay in the city despite the lockdown. ‘We actively kept track of the Saudi Arabian students, and I am sure of that group.’ 

Wessels says plans for when practical classes will start up again are still in the making, and all medical students are regularly informed about all study-related matters. 

Academic advisors

Vice dean Rob Timmermans said it hasn’t been decided yet whether the Faculty of Science and Engineering will have small-scale on-campus education before the end of the academic year. ‘Updates will be communicated directly to our students, including those currently residing abroad.’ 

Timmermans adds: ‘Students are advised to contact their academic advisor if they would like to discuss any corona crisis measures in relation to their individual study progress’.

Video: The renewed Aletta Jacobs hall

Video: The renewed Aletta Jacobs hall

The Aletta Jacobs hall renovation lasted almost eighteen months, resulting in a new wing with two new lecture halls, an exam hall, a second foyer and study facilities. UKrant went to take a look.
Video by Rianne Aalbers
18 May om 16:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 18 May 2020
om 16:52 uur.
May 18 at 16:52 PM.
Last modified on May 18, 2020
at 16:52 PM.

Corona rules will be relaxed ‘only gradually’

Board: Still too many uncertainties

Corona rules will be relaxed ‘only gradually’

The UG continues to be cautious in relaxing the corona rules. There are still so many uncertainties, the board says, that it can only be done very gradually. ‘We understand that people are impatient, but we have to be very careful.’
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
13 May om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 19 May 2020
om 9:47 uur.
May 13 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on May 19, 2020
at 9:47 AM.

Do you have a question? 

Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.

Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to uk@rug.nl

Student party Lijst Calimero argued for a limited reopening of study rooms, like they did in Rotterdam and Maastricht. Earlier, you said you didn’t want to do this. Have you changed your minds at all?

Jouke de Vries: ‘No, our position on this hasn’t changed. We did say we’d explore options to relax the rules after last Wednesday’s government press conference, but we’ll only be doing so gradually.

We asked the UB to set up a plan for a potential reopening, but there are so many things to take into account. We know so little about how the virus spreads exactly. We have to be very careful. Maastricht and Rotterdam have only allowed limited access to small groups of people, let’s not forget that.’

Hans Biemans: ‘If we were to have a limited reopening, it would be really difficult to determine who gets to go in and who doesn’t. Remember how busy the UB gets during the exam period? It’s not that we don’t want to help out students who really need it, but how do we determine who needs it the most?’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Not to mention the traffic. Students all come in on their bikes and park them close together. Before you know, it becomes impossible for them to keep their distance from each other. Then there are cleaners, security officers, monitors, etcetera. Reopening a UG building isn’t just a matter of unlocking the door. It’s not that simple.’

Employees, too, are wondering if the rules will be relaxed at the UG. Will people with private offices be allowed to work in them? Or, if they share an office with just a few colleagues, will they be allowed to rotate? 

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘The same rules apply to employees, not only because of the traffic. Again, we don’t know how the virus spreads. This morning, I read a scientific article that said the virus could spread through a ventilation system. We don’t know the exact movement of the aerosols and how this works. We also don’t know the role bathrooms play in the spread of the virus. I’m also seeing a lot of unnerving talk of a possible second wave of infections. We’re not taking that risk.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘This is what managers like to call a “wicked problem”: on the one hand, science can tell us very little about where we stand exactly. One the other, there is no political consensus about what we’re supposed to do. In the meantime, we have to make a decision. What that means for us is that we’re being really careful and strict in relaxing the rules.

We’ve started with a few lab rooms, but if the number of infections go up again, we’ll shut those down again. We have to be careful, and that can make people impatient. But even relaxing the rules a little takes a lot of preparation. Like Rutte said: Better safe than sorry.’

What’s happening with the lab rooms? What kind of measures are being taken?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We’re doing pilots, basically. One pilot we’re running at the faculties is using guiding lines on the floor. Safety Region Groningen also has clear regulations, and they have to approve of everything. Everyone who works in the building has to be registered.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘We’ve implemented these rules at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) and Medical Sciences, where they needed it the most. Small groups have gone back to work in a few labs in shifts at both faculties. At FSE, it’s about 25 percent of the people who normally need to use a laboratory and at the medical faculty, there are two shifts of 30 percent of the people. Both faculties’ deans are happy with the measures, but we’ll be keeping an eye on things. If anything goes wrong, we’ll have to scale back the measures.’

Do the people have to wear face masks?

Hans Biemans: ‘Funnily enough, the safety regulations for running tests in the labs are much stricter than anything in place to curtail the virus. So the safety there is guaranteed.’

The UG will continue online education into the next academic year. One student asked us the following question about this: I’m going to study in Amsterdam in January of 2021. If all classes continue to be online, I can already move there. But if I still have classes with mandatory attendance, I can’t. What am I supposed to do?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘That sounds like a question the faculty should be answering. The board doesn’t get involved in the planning and scheduling of education. All we said is that we’ll have a hybrid form of education.’

But you can give us some answers as to when actual classes will begin again, and for whom?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Unfortunately, we can no more answer that question than students or staff can. It all remains to be seen to what extent we’ll be able to teach actual classes after the summer. I can imagine we’ll have to prioritise some classes over others. First-year students who don’t know anything yet might benefit more from actual classes than third-years who are familiar with the university and the system.’

Some international students aren’t sure they can even come back to the Netherlands after the summer. Would there be a way of making classes that are taught in person available online as well?

Jouke de Vries: ‘The most important thing we need to guarantee is the level of academic education. We’ve asked faculties to make it available online as much as possible. We’ve also asked them to categorise what they’ll be able to do in person. If that’s possible, we might be able to do it. 

We’ll have to make a decision to reduce uncertainty, that’s true. I understand that people are uncertain, but we just need a little more time before we make any irreversible decisions. When that moment is I can’t say, as we have to discuss it further.’

Finally: The UG sent more than six thousand employees a chocolate bar in a pretty wrapper. It was a nice gesture, and people showed their appreciation on social media. Who came up with this idea?

Jouke de Vries: ‘I think it was Cisca and Marion Stolp with Human Resources.’

Hans Biemans: ‘Last Wednesday’s government press conference spoke of relaxation, which a lot of people need right now. Unfortunately, higher education hasn’t been able to relax the rules just yet; they’re discussing it next month. So the chocolate came at the right time for our employees.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘It was really great to see that such a small gesture can have such an impact. Colleagues were especially posting funny stuff on Twitter. I haven’t received one yet myself, come to I think of it.’

Video: Quarantine catwalk

Video: Quarantine catwalk

Now that we’re all stuck inside most of the time, comfort has become the most important aspect of a great outfit. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be fashionable, as these students prove: they turned their rooms into quarantine catwalks for UKrant!
Video by Rianne Aalbers
12 May om 11:50 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 12 May 2020
om 13:11 uur.
May 12 at 11:50 AM.
Last modified on May 12, 2020
at 13:11 PM.

Online education will continue after the summer

Regular classes when possible

Online education to continue after the summer

Online classes will continue after 1 September. The UG will extend its hybridised form of education into the new academic year, says board president Jouke de Vries: ‘Online because we can, and in person whenever we can.’
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
6 May om 11:48 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 May 2020
om 14:24 uur.
May 6 at 11:48 AM.
Last modified on May 11, 2020
at 14:24 PM.

Last week, the University of Leiden suggested it might be providing online education next year, as well. Education in general would become a kind of hybrid. Is that something that’s being discussed with the VSNU, and how does the UG feel about this?

Jouke de Vries: ‘It’s definitely something that’s been discussed within the VSNU, and they’ll be starting a new campaign on Wednesday: On campus when we can, online because we can. Even when the worst of this crisis is over, Dutch universities will continue to provide education online. The UG will, too. Some of the educational activities will take place on campus, and some of it will be online.

We’re looking for the best possible combination, but we have to make sure the in-person education is done correctly. We have to take social distancing into account. That makes it difficult to organise large lectures in person. But I’m sure we can figure out something for the smaller faculties and classes once in-person education is allowed again.’

What about practical classes involving lab work or people working together in close quarters?

Jouke de Vries: ‘We have to really look at the options for practical classes. Right now, we can’t really say what they’ll look like. We also have to wait and see what the corona measures will look like after May 20. As long as the government hasn’t made any new decisions, we can’t make any predictions. The only thing we can tell you right now is that the UG will provide in-person university education where and whenever possible.’

In our first interview, we briefly talked about how the corona measures affected people doing research that has a set end date. Should PhD candidates and scholarship PhD count on an extension of their contracts?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘The thing is, some PhD candidates have been negatively affected by the lockdown, but there are also those who haven’t. I’ve heard that PhD candidates who used to do a lot of lab work have been using this time to write. That means that not everyone is suffering delays. We first have to have an overview of how big the issue is and if we even need a solution. I can’t really speak to that right now.’

Hans Biemans: ‘It’s a situational issue. Even before the corona crisis, some PhD candidates would get an extension if they weren’t able to finish on time while others wouldn’t. It’s not just to do with the corona measures, but with other things as well.’

Last week, we surveyed students to ask them about online testing. Generally speaking, the students were happy with the actions that have been taken, but they did have one point of criticism: the tests often take too long and are harder to finish online. Could you respond to this?

Jouke de Vries: ‘We understand how this might happen; it’s a new way of testing and we’re still working everything out. If the tests are taking too long, I’m going to assume that will come up in the evaluations we’ll be receiving. If it does, we can do something about it.’

One thing that keeps coming up is students suggesting alternative assignments, like essays or presentations instead of online exams. Why aren’t we doing that?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘First, that’s not up to us, but rather to the faculties and departments themselves. We offer a great variety of testing methods. Departments and lecturers are exchanging ideas and learning from each other. But it’s never really been the same across the entire university. And students actually like the different methods of testing.’

We’ve also heard students say they don’t think it’s fair that different testing methods are being used, like when the law faculty says it won’t be using proctoring software while the arts faculty is experimenting with that very same software.

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘In the end, these decisions aren’t up to the board. The responsibility lies with the faculties and exam committees. It’s always been their responsibility, so I don’t understand why this is suddenly a problem. The faculties have always differed in their testing methods.’

The use of proctoring software is more than just ‘differing’. The university might decide to take a stand on that.

Hans Biemans: ‘If we ever were to use proctoring software, it would have to comply with our rules. We have rules concerning privacy and how we handle data. All of that is in place, which means any software we implement would comply with our rules. I don’t really understand why students have a problem with this.’