No room in the UB? There are still study spots left in the faculties

There are still study spots left in the faculties

All study rooms in the university library are taken within a few minutes and there are queues in front of the Forum in the morning. But there’s still room in the faculty buildings.

By Bente van Leeuwen
4 November om 11:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:22 uur.
November 4 at 11:52 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:22 PM.

It is not easy, creating study spots in times of corona. Building managers must take into account distance rules and time slots, set up registration systems, and ensure that people do not get in each other’s way when the next group of students arrives. More decentralised study spots are becoming available at the faculties, though. ‘It seems that there are now enough faculty study spots’, says facility manager Marleen Iemhoff of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. ‘Usually there are places left.’

GMW has converted the temporary canteen under the Nieuwenhuis building in the Grote Rozenstraat into a study location. There are also study spots available in the Gadourek building. The 133 spots in the new Heymans building are also very popular. There are now a total of 215 study spots. Of course there are peak times, she says, but that was also the case before corona. ‘That’s what you get when everyone wants to study between ten and two’, jokes Iemhoff.

Arts and economics

For the time being, the supply at other faculties is also greater than the demand. Arts mainly focused on redesigning the study spots that were already available in the Harmonie building. That was quite a hassle, says facility manager Rein van den Bos. ‘At the moment there is a good match between supply and demand. That was difficult to organise. But we’ll gladly do it again if the demand goes up.’

There is also enough room at the Faculty of Economics and Business. The usual places are available and there are a number of extra rooms available, such as computer rooms, which were already being used as study spots during exam periods before corona. Should demand increase, there are further possibilities to scale up.

It’s not clear why the faculty study spots aren’t more in demand. ‘Perhaps the students don’t know about them’, Van den Bos speculates. The Student Portal provides information on the available study spots, but that may not be enough.

Linnaeusborg

The Faculty of Science and Engineering did identify some shortages, which is why – in addition to the usual spots in the Bernoulliborg – it has converted the Linnaeusborg canteen into a study room. Each room is good for thirty spots. Another thirty will be added in the Bernoulliborg. Andrys Weitenberg, housing manager at FSE: ‘At the moment it seems to be enough, but it is not yet clear whether this will be the case during the busier periods.’

A number of faculties have special dispensations for students who really need a place to study, for example because they have concentration problems, bad Wi-Fi at home, or because they have mental health problems.

Law and arts students can report to their study advisor, who will then assess whether they qualify for a special permission card, which ensures them a study spot. At FSE, thirty spots in the Bernoulliborg have been reserved for students with dispensation.

Thousand students affected by Nestor malfunction (UPDATE)

Seven out of twelve exams cancelled

Thousand students affected by Nestor malfunction (UPDATE)

Due to technical problems, Nestor shut down on Monday afternoon while approximately a thousand students were sitting their exams or were just about to start. Twelve exams were affected, seven were cancelled.
By Şilan Çelebi
2 November om 18:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:22 uur.
November 2 at 18:10 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:22 PM.

Five exams could still take place once the problems were resolved. This is the third time in a few weeks that Nestor has malfunctioned. Last Monday, Nestor was down for half an hour when approximately 1,400 students were taking their exams.

‘We’re very sorry this has happened’, the UG says in a statement. ‘If you’re all set for an exam and it’s cancelled last minute, it will have a major impact on you.’

Reboot

The university tried to fix the problems on Monday by rebooting the servers, but that did not help. ‘The load on the system immediately increased again.’ Nestor was updated overnight to increase its capacity.

That seems to be working for the time being. Exams taken on Tuesday morning are going well, according to the university. The cause of the problem is still being looked into, however. The faculties are to ensure that the cancelled exams are rescheduled as soon as possible and that students are kept informed.

Cancelled

Among others, approximately fifty students who were about to take the international human rights law exam were affected by the down time. They were unable to enter the test environment for the first thirty minutes and when they finally made it through to the first question, they were told the exam had been cancelled. 

The international business exam for first year economics and business economics students was also cancelled, as was the asset pricing exam. 

How to proceed?

Student union GSb is furious that this has happened again. ‘This is the foundation of online education and even that is not going well. What will happen if the university wants to continue its focus on online education after the corona crisis?’ says GSb chairman Marinus Jongman.

According to the GSb, preventing malfunctions during online exams is paramount and worrying about cheating can wait. Several faculties have sent an urgent letter to the UG board about the rise in cheating cases over the past months.

The UG and the GSb’s reactions were added after the article was first published.

Why are we so reluctant to use Zoom?

Op-ed: Why are we so reluctant to use Zoom?

The UG provides three programs for online teaching. But philosophy of law professor Pauline Westerman argues that none of these programs suffice. Zoom works much better, she says. So why are we so reluctant to use it?
By Pauline Westerman
19 October om 16:08 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:22 uur.
October 19 at 16:08 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:22 PM.

Last week, the UG sent us a letter detailing which platforms and programs we’re allowed to use to work from home, and to teach online in particular. Since the coronavirus will make on-campus education impossible for the foreseeable future, I read the letter with great interest.

Upon closer inspection, the tools we’ll have at our disposal turn out to be quite limited. Blackboard Collaborate remains the most used program. It is versatile: you can create small groups, record and play video, and many other things. However, the program’s underlying didactic concept is outdated.

The features all seem to be geared towards one thing: letting the lecturers broadcast their message in the best way. It fails to take into account how important it is to know how students are responding. All lecturers have to go on are the questions students type in the chat window.

They only have visual of a maximum of four students. But that’s what teaching is all about: any lecturer worth their salt wants to see that their students understand what they’re saying. It’s something they can, nay, must take advantage of. With no student interaction, you might as well just play a recorded video. But that should only be a tool. This isn’t teaching.

The second program on offer is Google Meet. It allows everyone to see each other, which is a relief for lecturers who teach small groups. However, the audio and video quality is lacking, and session participants cannot be divided into smaller groups. Anyone who wants to liven up class by making students discuss and do assignments together will not be able to use this program.

Finally, there’s BlueJeans. Access to this program is protected, which I initially thought was a good thing. The program allows lecturers to see their students and divide them into groups. However, its capacity is limited and whenever there are more than fifteen people using the program at once, their faces start getting blurry.

And that’s about it. That well-known program starting with the last letter of the alphabet is conspicuously missing (before you ask: no, I don’t own any shares in it). But this is actually the only program that would allow us to teach properly at all.

As my time at the university of Stockholm taught me, it allows up to 250 participants at once (split over five screens), enables the user to form groups, has a whiteboard function, and makes it easy to see who wants to speak.

In addition to using a chat function, students can actually talk to their lecturer. The more they have this opportunity, the likelier they are to turn on their camera. Even when two people are talking at once, they can both still be heard clearly. The only drawback is that this program only allows you to see five faces at once when you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation.

Any lecturer worth their salt wants to see that their students understand what they’re saying

Of course, this platform has known privacy issues. The UG should be applauded for taking this seriously; privacy is important. In the letter ‘Working from home and the GDPR’ we received last week, the UG names three concerns:

These are all disadvantages, to be sure, but all the other available programs suffer from these issues, too. BlueJeans, for one, also installs software on your computer.

Regarding the second point: I’d bet my life on Google having the same commercial purposes. In fact, the UG probably should never have gone into business with Google, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The third disadvantage mentioned appears to already be obsolete. The people who broke into Zoom sessions in March were technically invited, since people made links public, or the meeting code was visible in screen grabs made during the meeting. Zoom no longer shows these meeting codes and protects its sessions with a password. Finally, this week, Zoom has started using end-to-end encryption, something the platforms we’ve been told to use do not.

Fortunately, I’m a law philosopher and not an expert, so I’m glad the university is taking it seriously and waiting for a data protection impact assessment. But my burning question is: How long will this take? We’re in a hurry!

We may not be able to see our students in the flesh, but we’d love to see their faces as we explain things to them. Students would also greatly benefit from being able to talk to their lecturers, ask them questions, and discuss things with their lecturer and each other.

If Zoom is truly that unsafe, why not find a worthy alternative that will enable us to properly teach over the next few months?

What’s more, if we have the proper facilities, we won’t have to record any extra videos explaining things or organise any webinars. We’d simply do what we’ve always been doing: seeing students’ faces, looking for people who want to ask a question, letting people speak, and responding to that.

Could it be that Zoom is too expensive for the UG? If so, I think I might move back to Stockholm.

Pauline Westerman is a professor of philosophy of law

Survey: Quarter of international students unfamiliar with corona app

UKrant survey:

Quarter of international students unfamiliar with corona app

An UKrant survey shows that many UG students have downloaded the government app CoronaMelder on their phones. But more than a quarter of internationals don’t even know it exists.
By Sara Rommes
13 October om 16:52 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
October 13 at 16:52 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

Of the 166 students who filled out the survey, 44 percent had downloaded the app. There is however a notable difference between the 117 Dutch respondents and the 49 internationals: 47 percent of the first group had the app on their phone, while in the second group, it was only 22 percent. 

That’s not surprising: 27 percent of the international respondents didn’t even know the app exists. ‘But it sounds like a good idea’, one of them said. Another interesting detail: none of the Dutch students said they were unfamiliar with the app. 

Mark Dijkhuis, spokesperson for the Groningen Safety Region, acknowledges the survey results are significant. The GGD, UG, and Hanze University of Applied Sciences are working together to ensure that all students know about the app, he says. They’re also in talks with ESN, the largest international student association in Groningen. ‘They are often much more successful at reaching internationals than campaigns by the Dutch government are.’

Privacy

Most students who have yet to install the app say it’s because they haven’t got around to doing it yet. The app has only been available throughout the country for a few days. Many respondents are also worried about their privacy. ‘I’m worried the app will keep track of where I am at all times’, said one of them. 

Asked whether students think everyone should download the app, their answers varied. Most of them said yes, as they believe the app will contribute to the fight against corona. But they disagree with the idea that the government should make downloading the app obligatory. ‘People should be free to choose whether or not they want to do that.’

ESN’s president David Kraandijk says they will distribute the information through ESN newsletter, website and social media. ‘We are in favour of the CoronaMelder app and happy to work with the GGD to contain the virus.’

Will the UG’s new coffee supplier pass the taste test?

Will the UG’s new coffee supplier pass the taste test?

The Douwe Egberts coffee at the UG will be replaced by the organic fair-trade beans from coffee company Maas. That is to say, if their coffee actually tastes good. Last week, university staff were allowed to taste and judge the brew for themselves.
By Sara Rommes
12 October om 18:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
October 12 at 18:40 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

While the rain is coming down in buckets outside, steaming cups of coffee are being served in the former public library at the Oude Boteringestraat. They’ve been poured by the baristas working for Maas, the company that, if everything goes according to plan, will be the UG’s new coffee supplier. 

Last June, the university cancelled the tender process for the new coffee machines after current supplier Douwe Egberts and a second company had withdrawn. The corona crisis meant that people at the university were drinking much less coffee, and the UG was no longer able to guarantee large sales.

Nevertheless, they’ve succeeded in finding a new party to supply them with hot drinks. The coffee made by Maas ticks all the UG’s boxes. The only thing left to approve was the flavour. Last week, all university employees were given the opportunity to taste and evaluate the new coffee. The taste test is ‘an important element to determine whether the UG will make a deal with Maas’, the purchasing team said. 

Ground beans

Two modern coffee makers have been set up in the large room where the taste test is held. The first one serves instant coffee, which is what 10 to 15 percent of the new machines at the university would serve. The second machine represents the remaining 85 to 90 percent and would be serving coffee made from ground beans. ‘People want better quality coffee’, Maas coffee expert Frank van Loon explains. 

Other keywords are sustainable, local, and conscientious. Maas would be serving organic coffee that’s also fair trade. The beans are provided by Groningen roaster Tiktak, and the black gold would be served by energy-saving machines that can turn themselves on and off when needed. The cappuccinos and macchiatos use skim milk. ‘That’s for health reasons’, explains sales manager Jean-Max Fijen. ‘That way, there aren’t any unnecessary calories in your cappuccino.’ 

Four grades

After they’ve tried it, the tasters can grade the coffee, but they can only give it a 0, a 5, a 7, or a 10. People are surprised: ‘What if I want to give it a grade of 6.5?’ Van Loon explains what the grades mean: 0 is ‘undrinkable’, 5 is ‘drinkable’, 7 is ‘good’, and 10 ‘excellent’. 

This grading system may not accurately reflect how people feel, though. People are less likely to rate the coffee as 0, which means they’ll be more likely to give it a 7 or a 10. On top of that, they’re also asked to compare the coffee to the coffee that Douwe Egberts served and grade it accordingly. Fijen explains that the UG decided on this particular grading system. ‘But we’ve received feedback from various people that they would have preferred more options.’

There’s nothing to be done about it now, though. The list tracking the grades shows mainly sevens and tens, and one or two fives. The final verdict probably won’t be much of a surprise. But the definitive white smoke – or rather, steam – won’t be released until later this week, when the results are published on MyUniversity.  

Social solidarity

Social solidarity

By Niall Torris
7 October om 14:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
October 7 at 14:23 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

Recently, a colleague wrote about why she likes to go to parties. The piece got a lot of heat and most of it was well deserved. The comment sections beneath the article were full of people decrying her attitude to Covid regulations and most points were well made with readers understandably passionate and upset. I know many people share her attitude, so there’s real value in the reaction.

As young people we need to do all we can to combat the virus. This, for the most part, means respecting the rules. There can be no debate in that and, honestly, pointing fingers at who is worse at respecting the rules, the ‘young’ or the ‘old’, does nothing to help. Social solidarity isn’t about creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality. It’s about standing together in the face of adversity.

That said, everything is so boring lately that everyone is desperate for something exciting to happen that doesn’t make us despair. It’s been this way for about six months and it’s going remain this way for a lot longer. For younger people like me, it’s hard to feel like our youth isn’t melting away.

It’s on that note that one passage really stood out to me. The writer spoke about how young people and students are the ones that will have to pick up this mess when coronavirus disappears. Searching for jobs in a broken economy while saddled with student debt, a climate crisis, and no pensions to look forward to. A moment of poignant writing from my colleague, to say the least.

The pandemic is stealing some of our youth, but it wasn’t the virus that burned our futures

Obviously, that doesn’t justify major breaches of corona rules. But under the pressure of all that, and a university education that expects more of students in less time than ever before, is it any surprise that we want to feel normal for a night? Of course, it’s not. Acting otherwise for a few likes in a comment section risks missing an important point.

When coronavirus goes away, those who could work from home will be safe and their jobs will resume, pensions will keep paying out and so on. Many aren’t so lucky. Coronavirus has further exposed deep inequalities in our society. My generation is generally well-educated and expected to work harder than our predecessors, all while suffering constant accusations of laziness and idiocy.

Most of us know we will never own a house, experience job security, afford pensions, or start a family. The pandemic is stealing some of our youth, but it wasn’t the virus that burned our futures.

Social solidarity isn’t a one-way street.

‘Everyone who works this hard is lecturer of the year’

Stephan Schleim. Photo Elsbeth Hoekstra

Psychologist declines nomination

‘Everyone who works this hard is lecturer of the year’

The psychology department wanted to nominate associate professor Stephan Schleim for ‘Lecturer of the Year’. But he says the election sends the wrong message and he is therefore declining the nomination. ‘Don’t we have more important things to do?’

By Stephan Schleim
5 October om 10:43 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
October 5 at 10:43 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

When the intelligent lockdown started, I’d just begun teaching my second-year psychology course theory of science. We were no longer allowed to enter a classroom. How were we supposed to properly teach 568 students?

I decided that a live stream, which would be a technological disaster with so many students, wouldn’t be very helpful. A bunch of slides featuring a little man in the corner trying to explain them would have no added value. Instead, I recorded a podcast every Monday in which I explained the slides to the students.

On Tuesday, when the class was scheduled, I hosted a live session during which students could ask questions. And instead of a multiple-choice exam at the end of the block, I made students do group assignments every week.

Highlight

I have been teaching this course every year since 2010, but this time, it was different. The students and I had no personal contact, but they did send me their assignments every week. I employed two student assistants to help me mark them: there were ninety-six groups who each handed in two pages.

Some students emailed me enthusiastically, saying they were already looking forward to next week’s podcast. One person even said it was the ‘highlight of [their] week’. The positive feedback also showed up in the course evaluation.

However, the personal price I paid was high: I worked at least seventy hours a week between mid-April and mid-June. The block coincided with several publishing deadlines, one of which was for my new book. At the end, I suffered from intense RSI symptoms, with pain in my neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. I had felt it coming but pushed through anyway.

Messed up

Obviously, I was happy when the psychology department head emailed me to say that my performance had earned me a nomination for the title of ‘Lecturer of the Year’. But after sleeping on it, I declined. Coincidentally, that same day, UKrant published an article about researchers who’d left the university

This system is messed up. No matter how hard we work, every year the politicians thank us with more cutbacks. The only thing they haven’t cut back on is bureaucracy! Every year, they want us to do more while giving us less. Over the past few years, we’ve tried to talk to them, we’ve protested and marched, and some of us have even gone on strike. And for what? It’s a disaster.

Gladiator

I don’t feel the ‘Lecturer of the Year’ election is something a university should be engaging in. Besides, being nominated by your department is only a first step. After that, you have to face your colleagues, like gladiators in the arena, and fight them to become the top lecturer at your faculty. In the next round, you fight to become the best lecturer at the university. Where does it end, with ‘Lecturer of the Universe’? Don’t we have more important things to do? Especially now, when, as it was recently revealed, we collectively work more than ten thousand hours of unpaid overtime a week?

It’s often said that academia is all about collaboration. The charter the universities drew up for themselves, the Magna Charta Universitatum, also emphasises that we’re supposed to be a single, united community. The UG signed the statute in 1989, and it currently has been signed by nearly nine hundred universities from eighty-eight countries. The statute also says that universities should be politically and financially independent. I think ensuring this is an essential task the university should undertake. It shouldn’t be splitting up lecturers and researchers into their own little groups. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who works hard is Lecturer of the Year.

Stephan Schleim is associate professor of theory and history of psychology at the UG. 

An earlier version of this article said that Stephan Schleim has been nominated for the Lecturer of the Year award, but the faculty has since cancelled the election. 

Chaos

Photo by Reyer Boxem

Chaos

By Niall Torris
22 September om 16:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
September 22 at 16:01 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 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 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
September 22 at 12:50 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 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 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
September 16 at 11:40 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

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 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
September 15 at 13:23 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

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.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
September 9 at 9:10 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

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 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
July 1 at 12:06 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 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 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
June 24 at 11:04 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 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 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
June 15 at 17:00 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 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 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
June 15 at 11:36 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.

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 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
June 10 at 11:33 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 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

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.’