Q&A with Rector Rik Van de Walle about the corona virus measures - Ghent University

Q&A met rector Rik Van de WalleQ&A met rector Rik Van de Walle

We all had a different idea about what 2020 would look like. Certainly as a student, the adjustments in response to the corona crisis are far-reaching.

Your student life, attending classes, internships, lab work and taking exams later on is completely different than expected.  
We still have a long way to go, that much is clear. But over the past weeks we have also proven that the Ghent University community can handle a lot. None of us can meet the challenges we face on our own. Together we can.

We understand that you have a lot of questions about all the measures taken by your university and about what the future at Ghent University will look like. That’s why last week we asked you to submit your question to rector Rik Van de Walle via Instagram Stories. We received a lot of questionns. Answering them all was not possible, but we chose the most recurring ones. Below you can read the rector’s answers. 

Is it true that the exams will be organised at Flanders Expo? (Anton)

It’s true. In order to guarantee social distancing, it’s necessary to admit far fewer students per examination room in comparison to normal exam periods. Therefore, not all exams can take place in the university buildings. So we had to look for suitable exam rooms outside Ghent University. We found that space at Flanders Expo. Other universities and colleges are looking at similar solutions.

Will there be extra public transport to Flanders Expo with regard to social distancing? (Maxime)

We are discussing this with the public transport company De Lijn.

What happens if the exams cannot take place in June? (Jordi)  

We assume that all exams will be held in June. We have already managed to schedule all exams; the exam schedules were communicated to all students on 15 April. By the way: we are the first university to have laid this complex puzzle. I am quite proud of that.

What about the re-examinations’ What scenarios have been worked out? (Jens)

A new academic calendar has been worked out and communicated to the students. We assume a scenario in which physical exams can take place from the 1st of June.  But there are also two emergency scenarios: a first one in which physical exams can only take place from 15 June and a second one in which it is not possible at all to organize physical exams in June. But as said before, we hope that we will be able to organize physical exams from the 1st of June. This is exactly why respecting the current government policy is so important: if we don’t do so, the crisis will only last longer and the chance that we will have to switch to an emergency scenario for the exams will increase.  That would be doable, but such a scenario is obviously not my preference.

Will the current situation be taken into account when the exams are evaluated? (Maud)

Absolutely! The evaluation and examination forms are adapted to the reality that we currently only provide distance learning. For physical exams, the questions will also be adapted to the fact that exam sessions can last up to three hours (instead of a maximum of four hours, as is usually the case). For about half of the courses, the evaluation will be done online. Such evaluations are by definition adapted to the current situation.

A so-called ’booster week’ will also be organised. During this week, students and teachers will prepare the online evaluations and exams on campus together. Students will therefore know very well what is expected of them, how they will be evaluated, etc. Maybe even better than in non-coronatimes.

How should we proceed with our skills in practical training? (Fabrizio)

For this academic year, replacement tasks were developed in which the required skills could be taught in a different way. If there are still skills that have not been acquired, they will be integrated into a course next year.

Why not more flexibility for tasks and theses’ The expectations remain just as high. (Julie)

Students who are in their final year should be given the opportunity to graduate this year. Therefore, it was decided to finish theses/master’s theses with the information that is already available. The persons assessing the thesis/master thesis will take into account the limitations resulting from the corona crisis.

In your opinion, can students achieve the same learning goals despite the situation? (Felix)

Students who graduate this year will have achieved the learning objectives of the entire course. This has been checked for all courses, and this is the case for everyone.

For students who do not graduate this year, it is possible that for some courses not all final competences will have been achieved this year. These final competences will be integrated in other courses next year. In this way, all students can rest assured that they will have achieved the same learning goals, despite the current situation corona crisis.

From when will students be able to return to the Ghent University student homes? (Marian)

We cannot answer this question today. As much as we understand that you want to go back to your room - it’s great living together in the homes - we can’t guarantee that it will be safe. The shared sanitary and kitchen facilities make that impossible today. Furthermore the government asks that we all chose a fixed place to stay, so commuting between home and your room in the homes will not be possible until further notice.

Is financial support available for students who have to keep paying their student housing? (Amber)

For the students staying in the student houses of Ghent University, we made some agreements with the student representatives in the Social Council. These will be communicated shortly. For students staying in a private room, we recommend to talk with your landlord. For example, some already indicated not to charge the energy bills. Students who are struggling financially during this coronation period (e.g. because they lost their student job) can always contact socialedienst@ugent.be.

When will the libraries reopen? (Julie)

We can’t answer that at the moment. Since the beginning of the corona crisis, we at UGent have always followed government measures, including strict compliance with social distancing. As in all other universities, this has led to a complete switch to distance learning and no longer allowing students to enter our buildings. The latter was a very reluctant decision, but it could not and could not be otherwise...
These government measures have been extended until 3 May. The libraries will therefore remain physically closed for the time being.
However, the libraries have set up a system of digital services. 

Hi from Italy! Will it be possible for exchange students to come to Ghent University in september? (Irene)  

It is not yet possible to answer this question. At this moment, due to the corona virus measures imposed by the government, we cannot yet grant permission to foreign students to come to Ghent University. It is not clear when this situation will change. We strictly adhere to the government measures and follow the developments closely.

What are the chances that we will be able to leave on Erasmus in September? (Stefanie)

I wish I had a magic crystal ball that I could look into for the answer on this question. But unfortunately, I don’t. Nobody has. I attach a great deal of importance to honest communication, even if it implies giving an answer that was not hoped for. Therefore this honest answer: I don’t know.

Does Ghent University take into account that students are not able to study as well as usual because of all the stress and worries? (Lotte)

The psychosocial well-being of our students (and also of our staff members) is very important. I dare say that our university is a forerunner in this field. We have invested a great deal in this over the past few years. There are student psychologists, there is student@warmUGent. There are also surveys organized by the students themselves, the results of which we take very seriously.

All this becomes even more important in corona times. This is exactly why we have set up student@warmUGent. We give tips on how to deal with stress, there is an adapted special statute for COVID-19, as always the student psychologists are ready to help, there is extra support from the monitorates, Trustpunt, etc.
I really think I can say that great efforts are being made to keep things ’doable’ for students.  Did I say that it is easy? No, absolutely not. This corona time is a rough time, period. But we’re doing everything we can to get through it with our student

I have autism. Are students with special status allowed to take all exams on campus? (Maja)

Students with a special status consult with the instructor concerned about the examination form and, together with the instructor, arrive at an examination form or facility that meets the student’s needs. The  Disability Office can give students advice on this and support the request to the teacher.

Will our proclamation take place in September? (Nele)

Yes. All the faculties have indicated that they intend to do so.

Will the academic year start as usual next year? (Anna)

That’s what we’re assuming. Yes.

What are the top 3 most important things Ghent University is doing right now? (Nele)

  • The organisation of the remaining classes, evaluation and exams in the current academic year
  • Mapping the financial implications of the corona crisis (less income and more expenditure than in ’normal’ times)
  • Answering the question: "What after the corona crisis?
  • How does your communication work? Is there a team that deals with all the big issues? (Celine)

    I am assisted 24/7 by the people behind ’actueel@ugent.be’. In addition, I am in contact several times a day with the director of Educational Affairs and her team (the people behind ’onderwijsondersteuning@ugent.be’, student@warmUGent, etc.) and of course there is also ’de Kern’, of which the vice-rector, the logistics manager and the academic manager are also part. In these corona times I have even more contact with some directors than usual; the lines of communication with the deans are also very short. On top of that there are also contacts with the Ghent Student Council, which is very useful and constructive by the way. In short, we really tackle this as an ’Ghent University team’ and we make optimal use of the consultation forums that our university has at its disposal anyway.

    I communicate about the general Ghent University corona policy myself. The content of the message is usually coordinated with a few colleagues who have specific expertise in the domain to which the message relates (e.g. colleagues from the Directorate of Student Facilities when it comes to student homes). Then, together with our communication people, I draw up an e-mail and/or news message. We try to make sure that the message can first be read via the UGent website or Ufora, then it goes via e-mail to all UGent staff (or to specific target groups) and finally to the press. Once that process went wrong, when other universities shared a UGent decision with the media even before we could have done it ourselves, even before we were able to inform our students and staff. It’s one of the rare times during the entire corona crisis that I’ve been really angry and I’ve made that clear. I’m pretty sure that people have understood and that something like that won’t happen again very soon (laughs). But make no mistake: the five Flemish rectors correspond well, we work very well together. Still, sometimes the discussion can get lively.

    How do you stay mentally healthy? (Alex)

    Whether I have remained mentally healthy so far, shouldn’t be asked to the people around me. I’m counting on them to dare to tell me when things are wrong. But I’m assuming that my mental health is still fine. (laughs)
    How do I take care of that? By approaching everything as rationally as possible, establishing a limited number of general principles that I follow as consistently as possible afterwards, and telling a few people almost everything that comes to mind (what I think, what I doubt, what I’m afraid of, what I absolutely want or don’t want, etc.).

    There’s also my entourage at home. Its importance is often underestimated. At home I find a place where I can leave all my worries behind, where I can listen to music for half an hour or read a book, where my wife encourages me to be ’just Rik’... There are easier lives imaginable than a life with me, I realize that.

    I can only live the life I’m living if you’re well surrounded, at work and at home. That’s me and I’m very grateful for that.

    What is your favourite colour? (Julie)

    For costumes and cars black, and for everything else white.