Update March 13th, 21:22 hrs: the Executive Board has updated new measures yesterday evening. Till March 31 no reseach activities will take place in the labaratories on campus, it will also not be possible to study in the library in MetaForum (it will still be possible to borrow materials and books) and public defenses of PhD theses and master theses will take place without an audience. More information can be found on: tue.nl/corona.
TU/e was still running almost 360 courses yesterday, and most of these courses need to be offered online on Monday, March the 23rd. This will prove to be quite a challenge, according to rector Baaijens. Nevertheless, the Executive Board and the crisis team, which was set up with the purpose of managing the coronavirus crisis, are confident that the university will succeed. Baaijens: “Education & Student Affairs and Information Management Services are currently working very hard to take stock of what needs to be done, and they’re trying to figure out how this will take shape. Teachers could, for example, teach from home, or we might make recordings in the Auditorium.”
Baaijens says that each department has its own team that translates the measures taken by the university into the specific situation for that particular department. TU/e’s vice-president Nicolle Ummelen adds that a lively exchange of ideas between teachers has already started within TU/e via social media, “and we see something similar occurring at a national level between the universities as well.”
The, according to Baaijens, “famous week 8,” which provides some flexibility for the study program during the academic year, has been brought forward, he says, and that week, from 13 up to and including 20 March, is now education-free. This gives ESA and IMS the opportunity to organize the university’s online education. Baaijens says that there will be enough VPN connections available as of Monday 16 March already, so that both employees and students will be able to work from home in this way.
Hard work is also being done to ensure that the upcoming exam period, which is scheduled to take place between 4 and 18 April, can go forward as planned. “Our aim is to hold all exams digitally,” Baaijens says. “Tomorrow, Saturday 14 March, Computer Science & Engineering, which has a ceiling on student intake, will hold its online decentralized test for people who pre-enrolled, and that’s a large group of prospective students. That will be a good opportunity to see whether our setup actually functions in practice. The decentralized test for Architecture, Building and Planning will go online tomorrow as well, and Industrial Design, fortunately, is finished with theirs already. All study-choice check days planned in March, during which we would have welcomed many high school students on our campus, will be cancelled. We are now looking into the possibility of offering them online.”
Accessibility of buildings
TU/e’s buildings will remain open for now, but the guidelines and measures for the accessibility of buildings are constantly being monitored as well, Ummelen says. “The situation changes constantly, as in many other cases, and it certainly matters a great deal whether you travel to the university during the day or in the evening.” All events with an expected attendance of over one hundred people have been cancelled at this point.
There is also an ongoing dialogue with companies that are active on campus but not as part of the university, such as cleaning and catering. “Adjustments have been made to opening hours and employability of personnel, and there, too, it’s important too constantly monitor what needs to be changed,” Ummelen says. Critical matters at the university such as security, fire safety and making sure that research setups can be kept up and running require the presence of people on campus, she says. “However, we strongly urge people who don’t need to be here all the time to work from home.”
Business-related travels abroad are no longer allowed for the entire university staff up and until March the 31st. Ummelen: “We are thinking about how to deal with the costs that have been made already for these travels, but we can’t make any comments on this matter at this point.”
Ummelen says that the university is also thinking about the large group of internationals, many of whom are housed in Luna and Aurora and in the city center. “This is a group of people who, naturally, can’t simply travel home, and that could be difficult for them. We are thinking about what we can do for this group, we certainly haven’t forgotten about them.”
TU/e also has staff members and students from countries that have been more seriously hit by the coronavirus already, such as Iran, Italy and Spain. TU/e has 178 Iranian staff members and 22 students from that country. The number of staff members from Italy is 217 and the number of students 96. The figures for Spain are: 69 staff members and 58 students. Ummelen: “We don’t treat these staff members and students any differently than others. The same measure applies to them: when you’re sick, stay at home; when you can work from home, try to do that as much as possible.”
President of the Executive Board Robert-Jan Smits says he is constantly in contact with the mayor from Eindhoven, John Jorritsma (“who very actively keeps us informed about the latest developments”), the Municipal and Regional Health Service in the region, the other universities via umbrella organization VSNU, and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Smits: “I hope everyone realizes that we are in a precarious situation, and I emphatically urge everyone to comply with the measures we issued.”
Smits and Baaijens would like to pay the crisis team a huge compliment – in particular the team’s chairwoman, university secretary Susanne van Weelden, and all staff members and students who immediately set out to solve the problems. Baaijens: “It just goes to show how our community responds to these kinds of calamities. We don’t despair, but work hard to deal with the problem.” Ummelen would also like to say that her meeting with the directors of the services and departments this morning had been more disciplined than ever before. “And we’re with at least twenty people,” she says with a smile.
What the future holds remains unclear, also for the Executive Board and the crisis team. Baaijens: “Everything is constantly in motion, we try to prepare ourselves the best we can, but the things you came up with in the morning might need to be changed in the evening already. What’s important now is that we will be able to offer all our education digitally on March the 23rd. But naturally, our problems are small compared to what the hospitals are faced with.”
Finally, the Executive Board wants to convey the important message to the students that they can count on leniency from the board should they experience study delay due to this crisis.
TU/e will provide an update on the most recent state of affairs via mail and online on a daily basis, and more than once a day should this be necessary. The Q&A list that can be found online will also be updated daily, when necessary, with extra questions and answers.