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In the spotlight: René Hagels

“A lot of effort to achieve little”

Since the start of the pandemic, René Hagels has been an active member of the university’s ‘restart team’. That team coordinates what the coronavirus guidelines mean for the campus and ensures that students and staff stay informed. The team was downsized in 2021, but it has no less work. “The morning after every press conference, we met at 8.30 a.m. and asked: ‘What do the new guidelines mean for our university?’”

The team’s approach has been to allow as much room as possible within the guidelines for activities on campus. “Always within the rules”, Hagel says. An example was the regulation in mid-August that set the maximum group size at 75. How do you ensure that there’s enough space in a building with multiple classrooms – each with 75 students – during the breaks between classes? “We set up zones in the buildings and focused on good ventilation.”

There was frequent contact between staff at different universities about the approach to the rules. Hagels noticed that Radboud University put a lot more effort into facilitating in-person interactions than some other institutions. “We made it clear that we believe personal contact is extremely important. For many students, especially the more vulnerable ones, being on campus is a vital necessity.” But despite all the efforts, the campus remained mostly quiet in 2021. “It took a lot of effort to achieve little, but it was important.”

What lessons will Hagels take with him when the pandemic is over? “We can hold on to the energy we have unleashed. What used to take us three months we were able to do within three hours. We now know that we can adapt very quickly at Radboud University. Now we have really worked together with all the divisions of Radboud Services and the faculties, whereas earlier we were not always on the same page.”

After the pandemic, it will all be over: the meetings, the work of placing arrows and stickers, arranging equipment for online connections and video streams, the ever-changing layouts geared to the one-and-a-half metre rule and maximum group sizes, the shifting scenarios for teaching and exams, and answering all those questions about face masks. Certainly Hagels will be “happy when all this is no longer necessary” but, on the other hand: “It was also very rewarding to be able to contribute to keeping everything on track during this difficult time. I’m going to miss this dynamic.”

René Hagels is head of the Education & Study Facilities department in the Campus & Facilities division. At the start of 2022, Radboud University’s central restart team will have six permanent members: René Hagels, Martijn Gerritsen, Paul Deneer, Niek Bulten, Peter Hakvoort and Wim Scheenen.