We belong to a privileged sector
February and March have evolved into perhaps the strangest and most unique months ever. We have been forced to make decisions to impose travel restrictions and track foreign students to an increasing extent, eventually ending up in an isolation that permeates the entire society.
The consequences have been quick to follow. Many companies and social functions are running at half speed, others have been forced to halt their operations at least temporarily. We have experienced the biggest downturn on the stock market since the crash in 2008. Many employees have been temporarily suspended from their jobs and others have been laid off. Emergency initiatives are required from the government, from regions and from municipalities to mitigate the effects of the crisis. The Prime Minister has given a powerful speech to the citizens, urging them to realize the seriousness of the situation and to take their responsibility. At the same time, he appealed for solidarity and cohesion, something that I know we in Sweden are good at.
There is no doubt that we are paying a high price to reduce the spread of the virus. Only in hindsight can we know if it was worth the price, perhaps not even then. To me, it seems unclear yet how to “safely” get us to the position that a sufficient number of people are immune to SARS-CoV-2, to which the new Corona virus is named. Enough to stop further spreading and thus protect those at risk, that is. We can hardly remain in a national quarantine until a vaccine is available, which may be 2021 earliest.
At BTH, we are currently conducting two weeks of distance exam, and when the teaching starts again next week it is also in the form of distance learning. The situation is the same at all universities in the country. This has been and continues to be a major strain on our teachers, who in a short period of time have been forced to prepare for the new situation, and on pedagogical developers, the Student Affairs Office and IT Service providing support. The Communications Office is working under high pressure to convert our Open House on March 28 to a distance version. From HR we have been given tips for dealing with the new situation with many employees at a distance and the library has updated with information about what support students can get now that the campus is closed. Our creativity and ability to collaborate is put to test, and I see that we sustain the test very well. I would therefore like to extend my warmest thanks to all the staff for your understanding and goodwill. We will be able to maintain a high quality in our activities, albeit in a slightly different way than we had intended. We have also received positive attention from the media for our change abilities. Swedish Radio has recently published interviews with Christina Vesterlund Hansson, Jonas Knutsson and Christian Johansson Askling about our transition to distance education and with Dragos Ilie on IT security in connection with distance work and teaching. We are well equipped to meet the challenges and at least partly aware of the risks!
In the end, HEIs belong to a privileged sector these days (even so under normal circumstances if you ask me). No one will lose their duties or their work in times of crisis. Rather the opposite; we can expect a higher demand for our courses and educational programmes. We have almost three times the number of applicants for our summer courses. Although the increase is mainly due to a new distance course, it is very good news. So far (March 23) we have a 10% increase in the number of first-hand applicants for our programmes compared to the same time last year. I am convinced that, after all, we will be able to reuse the fantastic development work that is now ongoing even in normal operations. We will use distance tools to a greater extent in campus teaching, so-called “blended learning”. We are likely to increase the range of pure distance programmes and courses, and maybe mixed programmes where, say, the first year is done remotely. We will travel less when we finally have learned to use distance tools like Zoom in a good way and seen that it actually works surprisingly well. Perhaps the winners will be the students as we develop our pedagogical skills and offer more flexibility. And, of course, the environment as travel decreases. Let us hope that the Post-Corona era is not delayed too much, and that affected companies and social functions are in normal operation at least after summer.
24 March 2020