‘We can’t go back to what we were used to’

| Michaela Nesvarova

The corona crisis is causing major changes at the UT. A special steering group, chaired by Executive Board member Mirjam Bult, is working on a ‘new design of the 1,5 meters university’ for the next academic year. Details are still in the making, but one thing is certain: the UT will look and function differently.

Photo by: Gijs van Ouwerkerk

The steering group is preparing a new system for all physical and logistical aspects of the UT as of September. ‘We are making a plan for the whole academic year 2020/21,’ says Mirjam Bult, vice-president of the Executive Board. ‘That doesn’t mean the new design will be necessary for the whole year, but we want to have a long-term plan to offer people clarity. Knowing what to expect is important for everyone’s peace of mind. We allow staff and students a great deal of freedom, as it provides the space and opportunity to design a working environment that suits their needs best.’

What issues fall under this new design?

Bult: ‘We focus on all operational issues related to the 1,5 meters distancing rule at our university. This includes topics such as monitoring and enforcement of this rule, wellbeing, logistics and traffic on campus, access to buildings, which spaces to use for education, hybrid way of working, additional finances and so on.’

Is there a plan for access to building for staff and students?

‘We aim to find a good balance between the use of buildings by students, research staff, education staff and support staff. We want everyone to stay part of the community. We don’t have any specific solutions yet, but we will do whatever we can to safeguard the wellbeing of our employees and students. We see that one of the most important factors in that is having the opportunity to meet in person, especially among peers. Students want to meet their classmates, staff members want to meet their colleagues. We’d like to ensure that it’s possible to have social get-togethers. In this situation, we see social gatherings as even more important than regular work meetings. If we have to choose, we’d rather keep regular work meetings online and let people meet to build their relationships further. Community building is one of our main priorities.’

Does this mean that everyone will be allowed to work or study on campus at least in limited capacity?

‘Our intention is to make this possible, but we don’t want to make promises we can’t keep. However, being on campus is what we strive for. We will look at all departments and activities to see who, how and when could be on campus. Once again, we keep the importance of community building and wellbeing in mind.’

Do you know when you can present the final ‘new design’?

‘No, not yet. We want to make sure that we have time for creative thinking and solutions out of the box.’

Mirjam Bult 

What are the main priorities that you take into account?

‘As the Executive Board, we have identified a few guiding principles. First of all, Shaping 2030 remains our leading agenda. All decisions we make should be in line with this strategy. Secondly, all large-scale lectures and tutorials will be held online as much as possible, but small-scale gatherings should be allowed on campus. This is especially important for first year students, who need to get to know their classmates and the university. On the topic of education, we will also offer tailor-made solutions for students who cannot physically come to campus in September, for instance due to travel restrictions.’

What have been the main challenges while designing the new system for the UT?

‘Meeting expectations and safeguarding wellbeing. From my perspective, those are the main challenges that make this puzzle very complex. The situation asks a lot from our employees and students, but we certainly can’t go back to what we were used to before corona. Not working on campus is hard, also for me. As a member of the Executive Board, it’s important to hear, see and feel what is happening in the community. That is difficult now, but my relationship with the UT is very strong. Sometimes I go there on Sunday mornings or in the evening just to see the campus. I want to make sure that we can spend time there in the coming months. Although keeping to the 1,5 meters rule can be awkward. When I came to the campus recently, I wanted to hug everyone, but that is precisely what I couldn’t do. On the other hand, maybe it will only be awkward at the beginning and we will quickly get used to this new reality.’

the steering group

The new steering group formed at the UT focuses on all physical and logistical issues related to the 1,5 meters distancing rule. It is chaired by Mirjam Bult (vice-president of the Executive Board) and further includes Hans Oeloff (Director Center for Educational Support & Director HR), Pim Fij (Director Campus and Facility Management), Derk-Jan Fikkers (Director of Strategy and Policy), Jan Evers (Head of Business Information Management), Nico-Tom Pen (Portfolio Manager) and Dennis van Zijl (Director of Finance). It also closely collaborates with representatives of the Student Union and University Council, as well as portfolio holders from UT faculties.


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