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UPF does not foresee a drop in enrolments for the coming academic year and envisages starting it through mixed [face-to-face and online] courses

UPF does not foresee a drop in enrolments for the coming academic year and envisages starting it through mixed [face-to-face and online] courses

So revealed Jaume Casals, UPF rector, in an interview granted to the ACN. The outbreak of the coronavirus crisis coincided at the University with second term teaching over and the third began online.

13.05.2020

Imatge inicial

Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) does not foresee a drop in enrolments for the coming academic year as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis, as Jaume Casals, rector of the University, explained yesterday, 12 May, in an interview granted to the Catalan News Agency (ACN). Fewer undergraduate students are not envisaged, and pre-enrolments for master’s degrees “are not very different”, although foreign mobility will be limited “at least during the first term”. 

The University expects to start the next academic year offering “mixed” courses, face-to-face and online, but the goal is to be able to offer “face-to-face teaching” as much as possible, he said. Regarding the university entrance exams (PAU), Casals questioned that they can be done in July as planned, considering it an “absurd risk” under the current circumstances. 

The outbreak of the coronavirus crisis coincided at UPF with second term teaching over and the third began completely online. The rector’s assessment of the situation since is that things “have gone quite well” given the circumstances, and students, lecturers and PAS can continue their tasks. “Our organizational capacity has been very high, although we could improve some things”, he stated in reference to the fact that they are working so that everyone is “satisfied”.

In his case, he does not consider that there are problems to continue with online teaching, although it might be less highly appreciated than face-to-face classes, but he does recognize that there have been times with a great workload for everyone, not just for the students. However, he hopes the academic year will end “quite calmly”. 

There have been times with a great workload for everyone, not just for students, but he hopes the academic year will end quite calmly 

Also, the rector explained that this end of year “unequivocally” requires continuous assessment, and he argued that this is the best method of assessment for the students. In fact, he explained that during the riots last autumn, the possibility of sitting a single final assessment was enabled and was taken up by a “tiny” fraction of students. With regard to internships for which attendance is required in person, it might be able to postpone them until the first term of next academic year.

In this regard, he claimed that they do not need an order published in the Official State Gazette to tell them that they can do certain things, such as postpone internships. “The universities do not need to be supervised, we evidently need a framework for action and we comply with it”. 

UPF has provided material, such as computers and connections to university community members who had technical problems with online teaching

To allay the difficulties that have arisen, UPF has provided material, such as computers and connections to university community members who had technical problems with online teaching. In this sense, he assured that the University will make “a great effort” so that “nobody is negatively affected” by the economic and social situation created. He also trusts that universities will receive an additional budgetary amount from the Government to cover these new needs. 

Committed to face-to-face teaching and learning

Casals insisted that UPF is a classroom-based and not an online university and that it is working to implement its teaching in this way next year. He acknowledged, however, that the coronavirus crisis can be used to enquire as to whether good use is made of it and whether it could be carried out online reserving face-to-face contact for “really critical” aspects, considering that the pandemic is not expected to have finished. 

“We fully intend for next year’s teaching to be implemented face-to-face, compatible with the health situation and with all the tools required, if necessary, to thin out the classrooms or to better utilize all the resources”

“We fully intend for next year’s teaching to be implemented face-to-face, compatible with the health situation and with all the tools required, whenever necessary, to thin out the classrooms or to better utilize all the resources”, he explained. 

To this end, the rector, the vice-rectors and the technical officers are considering “several options” with a view to the start of the year and a combination of the two is the most likely, according to Casals. He added, however, that if the health situation were to worsen, UPF could start the course online in the same way this third term is coming to an end.

Proposal to do away with the current university entrance exams model

Moreover, Casals acknowledged that the PAU-based university entrance requirements constitute “a successful but disproportionate model” and criticizes how this issue is currently being dealt with during the pandemic. He said it is “a serious mistake” to imagine that in July sufficient spaces and infrastructures will be available for the exams to be sat and he hopes an alternative system will be looked into. “I fail to see how spaces will be found and everything that is involved in the expansion of spaces for them to take place and I expect the decision may be taken just to do some of the exams”, he revealed. For Casals, it would be “wonderful” if the PAU could go ahead in the present circumstances. 

Beyond that, however, he sees it as “an absurd risk for deciding 40% of the mark” and regrets the idea that the PAU are “such an unrelinquishable totem”. “If entrance to university was done differently, more frugally, for example only for some subjects, it wouldn’t be a problem, we could use it to see if the PAU exams, this mammoth task, really need to continue to be held”, he suggested. 

The rector supported truly free universities that can really take decisions concerning the most important things they must do

Along such critical lines, Casals added that “there is no autonomy for universities” and that the little they do have is only applicable for “negligible decisions”. The rector supported truly free universities that can really take decisions “concerning the most important things they must do”. He urged the universities to take advantage of this time to rethink some things and “refine themselves” and he asked the authorities “not consider the universities as their property”. 

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