The universities began this course with many questions that we cannot solve. But it is our obligation to minimize uncertainties. And that is why we have been working since June to prepare the protocols that are allowing us to start classes.
Zero risk does not exist; However, we can affirm that we have made an enormous effort so that our campuses are safe spaces and that teaching and research activities can be carried out with all possible guarantees.
The Spanish university system is face-to-face. And we are not going to give it up because our vision of the University is that of a forum for intellectual and, also, social exchange.
The acquisition of knowledge is just as important as learning the skills and competencies that are essential for teamwork, emotion management, communication and versatility in the face of unforeseen scenarios. If we have shown anything since March 14, it is that universities are capable of adapting in record time to an exceptional situation.
We are face-to-face universities
From the day after the declaration of the state of alarm, we began to reorient our classroom teaching methodology to a purely telematic one. What we experienced then, as we have underlined, was in no case a change to online teaching, but rather to remote emergency teaching. Now, our goal is to offer bimodal teaching that guarantees maximum attendance and the quality that our university system has accredited. We are going to improve the model, but we are not going to change it. We are – and we want to continue being – face-to-face universities.
To maintain our identity, we have articulated a mixed model between face-to-face and online teaching in which the attendance of first-year students has been prioritized because it is very important that this first contact with the university world is for newcomers the most satisfactory possible.
We are also turning to the practices and laboratories because they were the most affected during the confinement suffered in the second half of last year. In this sense, the Ministry of Universities has been asked that, in the event that this situation is repeated, professors and researchers are considered essential personnel so that they can continue teaching the practices and classes by videoconference.
In the published protocols, we have established the mandatory nature of the mask and the safety distance, and much work has been done on correct signage on campus, flexible schedules to avoid crowds, and continuous evaluation whenever possible.
We have reduced the groups between 30 and 50 percent and established a rotation system so that half can attend in person while the rest follow the class in streaming through any device with an internet connection. And if they have connectivity problems, as we detected last year in a percentage of around 1.5 percent, we will distribute computers and data cards again.
The control of classroom attendance will be rigorous to know where and with whom each student has been seated and we have designated and established responsible for COVID-19 and isolation procedures for possible positive cases within the universities. Everything, in coordination with the health ministries that are, together with the Central Government, who will determine the health scenario in which we will have to move.
The role of volunteers
But the measures decreed by academic or health authorities are of no use if each of us is not involved in their compliance. The role of the volunteers that we are training will be very important for the awareness of the entire university community.
No student is going to be left out because of the coronavirus. But universities cannot do it all alone. We have already spent a significant and unforeseen part of our budgets reinforcing telecommunications systems, adapting content to an audiovisual format, hygienic material, cleaning shifts, adapting spaces, practice simulators and hiring personnel.
Now we need the money allocated by the Government to Higher Education within the COVID Fund , and that has already been transferred to the autonomous communities, to reach the universities as soon as possible, which is what the law establishes. If we lose more time, the great loser will be, in the first instance, the student body and in the second, the whole of society.
We are obligated to act; no time for procrastination
We have been talking for many years about the importance of Research, Innovation and Transfer. From the need to change our production model and to move towards the Knowledge Society. But we just talked. Now the pandemic forces us to act if we want to save the welfare state that has cost us so much effort to achieve. We can take that leap, we have the potential to do so. But you have to react now. There is no time for further procrastination.
This generation will not be a generation lost in the universities. It will be different, with greater capacity for adaptation, resilience and empathy. A generation with social skills and digital skills according to the needs of a world that has changed and for which we are going to train them properly. In this, the certainty is absolute.
Author Bio: José Carlos Gómez Villamandos is President of CRUE Spanish Universities and Rector of the University of Córdoba