Collaboration in times of crisis

1 Jun 2020 00:00 | Communication

At U!REKA we are accustomed to working together remotely – as an international consortium spanning eight countries it’s second nature to us to collaborate online. The global pandemic however has posed a major challenge that has made this way of working and learning the new norm.

Shift to distance education

Since mid-March the entire U!REKA network has been working hard to ensure that education and research can continue despite the COVID-19 lockdowns. The key priority at all our institutions has been the shift to offering education online so that our students can finish the academic year successfully, as much as possible.

This has required a lot of improvisation from lecturers and support staff, as well as from the students themselves. It’s inspiring to see how much has been achieved in such a short time frame. Students and staff across our institutions are working together to share tips and insights for remote working and learning.

In Amsterdam for example, a student has shared his suggestions for a successful online learning experience. In Ghent, our HoGhent colleagues have been organising exams that cannot take place online in the massive Flanders Expo event hall to ensure that practical assessment can still take place within the required social distancing restrictions.

Challenging year ahead

The pandemic hit at a time of the year when many young people are deciding what and where they are going to study in the fall. This means that many of our open days could no longer take place on campus – these too have shifted online to help prospective students make this important decision.

The coming 2020-2021 academic year will be a challenging one for all our partners as we navigate the local and international restrictions imposed by the ever-shifting crisis.

“The real learnings for us lies in looking to the future and asking ourselves how we can apply the insights gained during this challenging time to our future collaboration as a European University, pending our successful application. The need for sharing knowledge across borders is more apparent than ever and we too at U!REKA can build upon this for the benefit of our consortium and also our individual institutions,” says Erik van den Berg, U!REKA Coordinator at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Edinburgh Napier University's face shields for local nurses and care workers.

Urban impact

Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, there are also plenty of great examples of urban innovation and collaboration. Initiatives across our partners institutions are showing the impact of our universities of applied sciences in our local communities. A few of the many examples are mentioned below, in this far from exhaustive summary.

At Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, students and staff members have been playing their part in the community by assisting those in need: picking up medications, acting as interpreters, helping with shopping, and by offering online tutoring, for example.

Another great example from Frankfurt concerns a student project underway with local companies in the Hesse state to produce injection moulding parts. These parts are being put to excellent use: in facial visors, which shield ‘everyday heroes’ who are exposed to the corona virus through their professions from infections such as the COVID-19 virus.

In Norway, partner OsloMet created a crisis fund to support international Master’s students who are experiencing acute economic challenges due to the corona crisis.

At Edinburgh Napier University, workshop technician Colin Malcolm also began churning out face shields, using an on-campus laser cutter just hours after hearing about nurses trying to make their own from cotton. The masks are now being delivered to nurses and care workers. In another example from Napier, a ventilator normally used within the university’s Simulation and Clinical Skills Centre has been transferred to the intensive care ward at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to play a frontline role in the current public health emergency.

In Amsterdam, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) researchers have set to work on a variety of corona-related research. One such example focuses on COVID-19 patients who are at risk of Post-intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) following their release from the hospital. Other researchers have been seconded to the Corona Behavioural Unit at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), where they are sharing their expertise on how to effect behavioural change in citizens and to adapt public space to encourage healthier behaviour.

Solidarity and reflection

Economic health is currently another concern for communities and individuals worldwide. Edinburgh Napier professors and lecturers in Tourism have joined forced with Scotland’s economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise, to help businesses in the tourism sector to recover from the crisis.

“Despite the pandemic affecting us all, there is still a spirit of solidarity and collegiality across the U!REKA consortium. Discussing our individual institution’s actions to fight the pandemic has provided the opportunity for reflection on the purpose of the network. We are progressing ahead with our planning for collaborative activities such as the next U!REKA conference and the development of our European University ambitions,” concludes Thomas Feige, U!REKA coordinator at Edinburgh Napier University.

More information

Please visit our individual websites for the latest information on each institution’s response to the corona crisis.

Information on our European Universities ambitions is available here