Swiss universities say they are better prepared for the second wave

Universities and other higher education institutions returned to online education on Monday under national Covid-19 rules set by the government.

This is the second time universities have halted in-person classes after the spring lockdown. Schools remain open under the latest measures announced last Wednesday.

This time, universities say they are well prepared for distance learning, having been able to build on their experiences earlier this year when they had to go online quickly.

Only a few small group events or seminars will take place on campus, said Karin Hiltwein, secretary general and head of the corona crisis team at the Northwestern University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland, based in Windisch, in the canton of Aargau.

Lab work and music lessons are still ongoing, she said, and “of course respect protective measures” such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Examinations, superhuman efforts
The University of Bern began reducing on-site teaching about two weeks ago. The institution expects the situation to continue in the long term (there is no end date for the current national regulations).

The examination procedures will have to be adapted. “We need to prepare smart exams that are not just based on a mundane search for knowledge,” vice-rector Bruno Morettti told Swiss public broadcaster SRF. Students have more access to support tools at home.

Some courses may suffer from “complications” because they are not intended to be taken online, added Marc Meyer, dean of studies and academic affairs at the University of St. Gallen. But “speakers go out of their way to make the impossible possible,” he told SRF.

There is no alternative to online learning at this time; students must complete their courses and pass their exams, Meyer said.

Effects on universities
Widespread outbreaks of Covid-19 in universities – as seen in the UK or the US, for example – have so far been relatively rare in Switzerland. The most publicized example was when undergraduate students from the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), one of the most prestigious hotel management schools in the world, were quarantined on September 23 after several coronavirus outbreaks.

Some have expressed concern about a second period of distance learning. Yves Flückiger, chairman of umbrella group swissuniversities, said institutions expected learning gaps, student isolation and research problems as a result. He told the NZZ newspaper last week that universities must do everything in their power to maintain the quality of education.

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