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The University in the Year of COVID-19

All university sections made extra efforts to stay connected during the pandemic. Examples include the sudden switch in the spring to largely digital education, the columns written by leaders – including members of the Executive Board – to keep spirits high, and the student actions to support each other and vulnerable groups in society.

Support staff worked overtime to help staff and students with problems relating to workload, studying, study progress or well-being. To help students, we set up Radboud Life and Care: the online help desk to bring together requests for and offers of help. The pastors from the University Chaplaincy made extra efforts to continue to welcome visitors (online and in-person). And student association Ovum Novum undertook a support action, with students volunteering as buddies for elderly people in need.

In his New Year’s speech in January 2021, Executive Board President Daniël Wigboldus articulated the dilemmas for a university that values connection. “On the one hand we had to keep our distance, but on the other hand we need each other more than ever. Not only to shape the so-called ‘new normal’ together, but also to share experiences and help each other through illness and loss. At the same time, work and study continued at our university.”

The Well-Being of Our People

The university’s attention to the welfare of students and staff was underlined by an interdisciplinary study led by Hans Schilderman, Professor of Empirical and Practical Religious Studies. For this purpose, well-being was surveyed throughout the year, using questionnaires about loneliness, (online) work experience and social contacts. The university’s communication about COVID-19 was also discussed.

The research report identified a great deal of problems. For example, many students have problems with studying at home and distance education, many feel a great lack of contact with lecturers and fellow students, and many experience problems with daily rhythm, concentration and motivation. For the vast majority of employees, work is worse than before the pandemic. Young employees and non-Dutch employees in particular have many problems with concentration and motivation. The report characterises all students as vulnerable, with the youngest students as the most vulnerable subgroup. The researchers will continue to monitor the participants as long as the crisis continues.

The study received national media attention, including in the Algemeen Dagblad and NRC newspapers. The Executive Board has since decided to investigate further. Although the vast majority of students are not experience problems related to their study progress, the initial findings underline the Executive Board’s concerns about the well-being of students and staff during the coronavirus crisis.

Rector Magnificus Han van Krieken points to all kinds of measures taken in 2020, for example to reduce workload and increase well-being. “For students, think of buddy programmes or the initiative to invite students to join staff members around Christmas.” For employees, he mentions the postponement of inspections and progress evaluations in tenure and career tracks. “As long as the coronavirus crisis lasts, we will remain extra vigilant about its consequences for our students and staff.”

‘As long as the coronavirus crisis lasts, we will remain extra vigilant about its consequences for our students and staff.’

- Han van Krieken

Our Education

It was a happy coincidence that the university was able to open its Teaching and Learning Centre in the spring. This centre – designed to allow lecturers to meet, be inspired and collaborate around teaching and educational innovations – has been working overtime to provide educational support, together with the Education Innovation with ICT team. The aim was to optimise the quality and pace of teaching and studying during the pandemic.

Because, according to the COVID-19 guidelines, even the largest lecture halls are too small for large groups of students, the university established off-campus study spaces in De Stadsschouwburg and De Vereeniging. Where possible, in-person education was the starting point throughout the year.

In 2020, a national decision was taken to designate COVID-19 as a special circumstance. A negative binding recommendation can therefore be postponed, allowing students with such a recommendation to continue their studies for the time being.

Our Research

COVID-19 turned research progress into a veritable obstacle course. A lot of applications for research grants were delayed or cancelled, collaborative projects were made more difficult, and many a research project was delayed because of barriers to personal interviews. Many PhD students had to forego the ceremonial defence in the Aula. Some PhD defence ceremonies were cancelled in the spring, but the university later caught up with them online, largely with remote audiences. In this way, 390 PhDs were still awarded, only a few dozen less than in the previous year.

The research agendas of hundreds of researchers at Radboud university medical center and the university were dominated by COVID-19. Research topics included medication, social and health consequences, and implications for well-being. In total, about 100 studies related to COVID-19 were set up in 2020.

Our Campus

Since the first COVID-19 measures were established in March 2020, almost all buildings on campus have remained open every day. Only the University Library and some faculty libraries were closed for a few months. The University Library remained open for lending, and from July onwards was only open to staff and students. Gerben Smit, division director of Campus & Facilities, spoke about the efforts to keep the buildings open: “We have been working hard on this all year because we think face-to-face meetings are important. That is our strategy, it’s in our DNA. Fortunately, our campus lends itself well to remaining hospitable even in times of COVID-19, thanks to the spacious layout of the buildings and grounds.”

The campus in pictures during COVID-19

COVID-19 in the Media

COVID-19 also dominated the media in 2020, and researchers from Radboud university medical center played an important role there, specifically in relation to infectious diseases. From the beginning of the crisis, there was a need for broad interpretation. Not only medical research, but also other topics were frequently discussed. The full breadth of Radboud University was evident in the diversity of contributions from researchers: from collective bargaining during the crisis to the risks of COVID-19 apps, and from the structure of the economy after the pandemic to a psychological interpretation of the difference between social interest and self-interest.

Our Finances

Coronavirus had a negative impact of more than €8 million on our finances (excluding the Faculty of Medical Sciences). The sports facilities and catering lost a lot of income and, because less leave was taken in 2020, the leave liability is increasing. In 2020, it was agreed in the Collective Labour Agreement that the university would reserve 0.45 per cent of the wage margin for incidental funding of bottlenecks due to COVID-19. This amounts to €1.1 million, of which €0.9 million was spent in 2020 on contract extensions for 69 staff members whose research was delayed by COVID-19; the remaining amount will be spent in 2021.

COVID-19 in the year 2020 (excluding E&R Radboud university medical center)

 

Amounts in €1,000

 

Lower results from sports facilities

-1,760

Lower results from catering

-1,371

Later filling of vacancies

709

Lower travel expenses due to travel restrictions

1,759

Contract extension due to COVID-19 delays

-886

Increase in leave liability

-2,084

Higher provision for projects

-1,470

Loss of rent/lower income

-1,361

Miscellaneous

-1,614

Total effect of COVID-19 in the year 2020

-8,078