Difficult times require special measures and an adapted way of working, living and organizing life on campus. Over the past few months, since the beginning of the first semester of the new academic year 2020-2021, the College of Europe community as a whole has made huge efforts to cope with a new challenging COVID-19 reality.
All services of the college administration, the academic departments, the hotel services (including catering, residence wardens and housekeeping), the (visiting) professors and last but not least the students have shown a great deal of adaptability, dedication and perseverance.
We would like to highlight the joint spirit of standing together and keeping each other safe with a comprehensive overview of 11 things the College of Europe Bruges campus has done to maintain the academic level of excellence and unique student life at the Bruges campus of our Postgraduate Institute of European Studies. We will of course continue to make these precious collective efforts in the second semester as we stand together in the battle against COVID-19.
COVID-19 Testing and Updates
Since the very beginning of the academic year and the arrival of the students of the Mário Soares Promotion back at the end of August (first group) and September (second large group) the health and safety expert within the College and the specially created COVID-19 team have coordinated a testing strategy to contain any infection within the community as needed and to impose quarantine measures as needed. Read more about our COVID policy, coordinated by Prevention Advisor Marth VANDEN BERGHE, HERE.
Via regular online COVID updates, containing an accessible FAQ overview and all the necessary information of what is going on, might happen and was decided on Belgian, regional and local level, we keep the whole College community informed about the ongoing pandemic. Our 344 students showed their solidarity by supporting each other and helping each other through the difficult quarantine period in the residences. The College staff and administration displayed their adaptability by embracing the teleworking policy.
Remote Teaching and Virtual Classes
At the end of October, Belgium was confronted with a very acute second wave of the COVID pandemic. The College immediately imposed a new set of measures to protect everybody's health in the best possible manner, including fully online teaching for all courses. In the first weeks of the academic year, we already successfully implemented the organization of courses and events with a limited in-room capacity. "The move to remote teaching presented numerous pedagogical challenges. I was impressed with the flexibility of the students and their ability to adapt as they quickly mastered the new technology and were soon giving presentations online to classmates based around the world", says Professor Michele CHANG of the EU Political and Governance Studies department.
"The semester has been marked by a mix of teaching formats resulting from changing governmental measures in response to the evolution of the pandemic. Things have at times changed from one day to the next. These frequently altering circumstances made teaching and learning challenging, and thus affected all members of the College community", mentions Simon SCHUNZ, coordinator of the Master of Arts in Transatlantic Affairs study programme and permanent professor in the EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies department.
"What struck me most during this period is the very positive and cooperative spirit that the students that I have interacted with – in the IRD and MATA programmes – have shown throughout the semester. Their willingness to accept and adapt to the changing circumstances, and their enthusiasm to interact with each other in classes even under sometimes challenging conditions, was exemplary. I would also and in particular like to highlight the tremendous job done by the Academic Assistants and our IT Service team in supporting students and professors in their hybrid and online learning and teaching."
Technical Support by ICT Service
Since September onwards, our hands-on ICT Service delivered once again top class technological solutions for students, professors and administrative staff. "We did what we could to keep our students, (remote) professors and staff teaching and working and interact (keep the social coherence) onsite and remote. We provided specific equipment to our staff who did not had the necessary equipment at home to do their work and keep in touch with their colleagues in the College and working from home", says Pieter CORNEILLIE, Director of ICT.
"We have provided spare equipment to students who had either issues with their own computer or simply had a computer that was not able to cope with all the video lessons.To support the hybrid way of teaching, we have also assessed, acquired and implement additional teaching tools allowing a much higher rate of interaction between the students and the professors. We also made sure students and professors could reach our ICT Service Desk outside business hours as teaching relies on technology more than ever and does not necessary follow business hours (evenings and weekends).
Last but not least, we have switched to a new digital online exam platform allowing the students to do remote exams without a very low tech impact and provided the necessary training, guidance and support to all involved."
Conferences & Events
Despite the restrictions and special circumstances, the College as a whole showed its dynamism by organizing several events and conferences, both virtually and physically. From September until now, we were able to invite several high-level speakers, including European Commissioner for Justice Mr Didier Reynders. Furthermore, Rector Federica MOGHERINI launched a new series of online conversations The College of Europe Talks between prominent guests and students of the College of Europe (Bruges and Natolin). Last but not least, our very active student teams once again showed their inexhaustible creativity as they came up with all sorts of alternative events and activities.
Reorganization by Academic Service
Our Academic Service managed to reorganize the teaching for the rest of the first semester. "With my staff we have made sure that the students and the professors receive in due time the necessary and updated information regarding the academic organization of all activities (courses, conferences, lectures and individual interviews)", explains Thierry MONFORTI, Director of the Academic Service.
"It was indeed a real challenge to set up, communicate and check all the information including the technical aspects which facilitate the implementation of each activity. In this respect informing the academic staff and faculty together with a good communication towards the students happened in the best possible way. Indeed the former experience from last March-June have shown that the College is now very equipped for facing online activities.
Of course with the Rector and the directors of studies we strictly follow the sanitary measure decided at the Belgian Federal level but also reassure both visiting professors and students that we will immediately turn back to the teaching in person once we will have received the authorization from the Belgian Authorities."
Catering & Safe and Clean Policy
The catering service of the College of Europe Bruges campus made every effort to make sure that the students of the Mário Soares Promotion can enjoy lunch and dinner in the safest way possible in times when protecting each other's health and well-being is crucial. "Throughout the different lockdown periods, we worked with different fomulas, systematically in accordance with the applicable rules imposed by the government", tells Steven DE RUYSSCHER, Director Facilities & Hotel Services.
"On one occasion we worked with a seating capacity spread over four rooms in the Garenmarkt restaurant, taking fully into account the rules of social distancing. We then also introduced wider time blocks to be able to work more or less in shifts. On another occasion, only take-away was possible for the students of the Bruges campus. During the quarantine and isolation periods of some students, we provided food to the residences and these were brought 'to the door' by student buddies. A textbook example of a student-based approach."
Read a September interview with Hans BASTIAENSSENS, Chef Hotel Services, on the COVID-19 policy of our student restaurant HERE.
Our Director of Facilities also points out the continued safe and clean policy that is already in place since the first lockdown period: "We have always been standby and during the most critical moment we focused on the common areas and on disinfecting the so-called high touch zones and toilets. At other times - with appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, FFP3 mouth masks, face shields and even “lab coats” - we were able to stick to our 2-week bathroom cleaning and sheet changes. To date, no member of personnel has been infected and that's not a matter of luck. It proves that we introduced the right means and follow the right procedures."
"In addition, the administrative buildings and academic sites were appropriately provided with the necessary signage, walking lines, screens, handles and hands-free dispensers. Our colleagues were given face masks, microfiber cloths and personal disinfection sprays to keep their own and communal material properly clean or disinfected", the Head of the General Facilities service adds.
Continued Library Service
"To prepare the first semester in the safest way, the Bruges library invested in LibCal, an online seat and meeting room reservation tool. On the reading room tables clear signage was foreseen to indicate the available places, as cleaning tissues and disinfectant. Plexiglass was also installed on the reception desk. To monitor the number of daily attendees, a visitor’s counter with traffic light was installed. In August library tours for students were organised in small groups of 5 students to guarantee the social distance", explains Library Director Roselien VAN LOOCKE.
"The library switched twice to pick-up and drop off services with limited opening hours and offering clear guidelines on returning books. Students were able to enter the library by using their C-card and deliver materials on a pre-allocated table. Whenever they needed essential readings for their courses, the library staff on site prepared the packages in cardboard bags and/or provided scans on demand. Public computers were not available, nor the meeting rooms or study places", says the director of the Bruges library.
"Major efforts to boost access to online resources were made by the staff working remotely. For example the number of e-books was increased and more online tutorials for the available databases and e-journals were prepared. The format of the library events changed. In presence of Rector Mogherini a limited number of students watched the State of the Union speech by Ursula von der Leyen, while others participated virtually in the debate via WebEx. The Library Talks Series also shifted towards an online event."
Following the new anti-COVID measures from the Federal Government, the Bruges library introduced adapted services from Monday 2 November onwards. Students were no longer physically allowed to the Library premises, except to return or collect books.
Admissions Office - Application Period
The Admissions Office of our Bruges campus successfully managed the online application period (from 1 October 2020 until 13 January 2021) for the academic year 2021-2021. "We systematically react to the questions asked by potential applicants who -of course- wonder how the academic life is organized at the present moment and will be from the next academic year 2021-2022. If we do not have the clear solution in hands we although insist on the proactive capacity and willingness of our institute to maintain the best academic quality and adapt to the circumstances. From a rather large number of questions and preoccupations raised by students and applicants since March we have prepared additional Q&A in order to keep the applicants informed. Additional online Q&A sessions are also regularly organized with the Admission staff in order to answer in a more vivid manner to the applicants."
Student Affairs Office (SAO)
Our dedicated team of the Student Affairs Office works day and night to support the students of the Soares Promotion in many varieties of ways from helping to organize student activities to making students get all the support they need. The SAO has also intensified the psychological support to help the students through this challenging period.
Besides the increased numbers of private sessions with the psychologist, in person or online, the students had the opportunity to meet the College psychologist, Mrs Chloë GOETINCK, during several workshops organised via WebEx. The students were given useful advice on managing stress, a topic that is especially relevant during the examination period, but also on numerous other issues students have to deal with, especially during a pandemic. Find a a short summary of the most important topics that were discussed HERE.
Communications Office - Opening Ceremony
In October, the Communications Office organised a memorable Opening Ceremony for 345 students in the Bruges concert hall. Fully in line with the rules and regulations surrounding the cultural sector at the time. Strict protocols were followed such as mask wearing, physical distancing, even entering and exiting the building itself had to be specially choreographed. "It was quite an experience. We had to follow a booklet of rules and adapt everything, even the stage set up", indicates Angela O'NEILL, Director of Communications. The event can still be followed on line. The key note speaker was His Excellency Mr Marcelo REBELO DE SOUSA, President of Portugal. Our college photographer Stéphanie PARMENTIER found it quite a challenge to capture the event. Her work can be found below.
Alumni & Careers Office
The Bruges Careers Office reorganized its activities in order to keep its offer open despite the pandemic circumstances. Thus, the presentations and workshops have been and will be reframed in a virtual mode as most of the career events. The Director of the Careers Office, Xavier ESTÈVE also regularly offered WebEx individual sessions to support the students of the Mário Soares Promotion in view to draft their curriculum vitae, cover letters, application files (such as for administrative competitions), prepare interviews,… , or to develop ideas on their chosen career paths.