It is a difficult time in which, as an academic community, we must show strength and solidarity - says prof. Krzysztof Wilde, rector of Gdańsk University of Technology. In a conversation about the functioning of the university during the epidemic, the GUT Rector also talks about current student and scientific matters, as well as the implementation of system solutions to facilitate the functioning of the university during the protection period.
Maciej Dzwonnik, GUT spokesperson: Last weekend, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education decided to suspend classes at universities until 10 April. This is over two weeks more than expected at the beginning.
Professor Krzysztof Wilde, GUT rector: - Certainly it was a difficult decision, but it was to be expected. The epidemic situation in the country is developing dynamically, so universities need to adapt to new conditions on an ongoing basis. Recently, at Gdańsk University of Technology, we have implemented a number of solutions aimed at maintaining the functioning of our university to the fullest extent possible. The government's decision to extend the protection period only means that these solutions will be used longer than originally assumed.
What solutions are these?
– It was not possible to reorganize the functioning of the university overnight, with simultaneous recommendations to avoid direct contact. Therefore, we took the first preventive and preparatory measures already a few weeks ago, when the suspension of classes seemed inevitable,.
We purchased disinfectants and prepared our own ones, developed by our scientists from the Faculty of Chemistry. Simultaneously, we defined the basic procedures regarding, among others duty hours of administration units, principles of remote teaching or preparation of dormitories for the possible needs of sanitary services. We fully implemented the new rules last week and we are constantly struggling to avoid significant shifts in the calendar of the academic year.
We also work in many other areas, constantly responding to new recommendations of the ministry and the office of the Chief Sanitary Inspector. The effects of this work will soon be visible and will improve the activities of our employees, academic teachers and students. However, all our decisions would not have had the expected effect had it not been for the understanding and commitment of employees and students. Everyone in this difficult situation behaves responsibly and mature from the beginning, so now I would like to thank you for help in reducing the effects of the epidemic.
What will be the biggest challenges for our university in the coming weeks?
– First of all, we must prepare solutions and procedures that will be implemented at the University after the epidemic is over. The time when we can come back to normal functioning will be crucial. At the same time, we try to implement programs and solutions that can help our employees continue their research work. Examples are the programs 'Premium for IDUB 2020 publications' and 'Premium for publications and patents', in which authors of articles published in prestigious magazines can receive up to 20,000. PLN for one publication. In total, we will allocate over PLN 4 million from the IDUB ministerial budget and subsidies for bonuses for the scientific activity of our employees and doctoral students. We are also working on several other programs financing research or facilitating work at Gdańsk University of Technology.
The University also managed to support the health service, which is on the front line of the fight against coronavirus. Last Friday at the UCK Invasive Medicine Center in Gdańsk, a station prepared by our scientists was installed, which is used to remotely measure the temperature of people entering the building.
– It is true. The apparatus used every day for the research by our scientists from the GUT Department of Biomedical Engineering, prof. Jacek Rumiński and prof. Mariusz Kaczmarek, allows detecting people with elevated temperature, which is the most common symptom of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The initiative was very well received among both the scientific and medical community as well as in the media; the largest internet portals and TV stations talked about it.
Yet this is just the beginning. For example, we plan to use artificial intelligence algorithms we are developing to detect coronavirus-induced fibrosis faster and more accurately. We want to actively use our knowledge, equipment and competences on various levels to help the Polish healthcare service, which is now in a very difficult situation. I encourage all GUT scientists to submit their ideas to the university authorities - what could we do today and tomorrow to help combat the epidemic and its consequences, including social and economic ones.
I would also like to congratulate our students on organizing a social fundraiser for local hospitals. This great initiative shows that in a difficult situation our students can be not only prudent but also creative and willingly engage in charity activities. This is encouragin.
You mentioned earlier the introduction of new rules for remote learning at our university. How is the implementation going?
– At all faculties there are already indicated and designated subjects that can be implemented remotely, and lecturers have already added several hundred lectures and online exercises on the dedicated e-learning platform. Most lecturers already had materials for their classes in digital form, hence their transfer to students, usually in consultation with representatives of given fields, is now relatively smooth and without major disturbances, and problems are eliminated on a regular basis.
Everyone understands the seriousness of the situation and tries to eliminate possible problems. In this difficult moment, the friendly attitude of both lecturers and students is very important, thanks to which it will be easier for us all to go through this difficult period.
Moreover, even before the virus reached Poland, we formulated the assumptions of the "IDEA" program (‘Innovative Teaching in Academic Education’), whose one of the goals is to create a professional unit dealing with the preparation of audiovisual materials for e-learning. This applies to the development of interactive materials enabling the implementation of lectures and classes, in which the acquisition of knowledge is more like participating in a video game than the classic listening to the lecturer's words. The current situation has shown that such activities are necessary, and without them the functioning of such a prestigious university as ours is not possible.
Students often ask about the issue of organizing the functioning of GUT student houses. Our two dormitories have already been allocated to the possible needs of sanitary services.
– This is a standard procedure for all state universities with dormitories. To meet the disposal of the Pomeranian Voivode, we prepared two student houses for the needs of the services: DS 11 and DS 13. One of them, DS 13, did not require student relocation. The transfers ultimately concerned only a few people, because the others had already decided to return to their places of residence. For these people, we also abolished all fees arising from the rent of dorms.
Are further relocations planned?
– Not at the moment, but as I have already said, the situation is dynamic. It all depends on any future decisions of the Pomeranian Voivode. If there is a need to prepare another dormitory for the services, we will meet it, but respecting all the rights of our students and avoiding unnecessary difficulties. We will not only prepare separate places for them in other student dormitories, but we will also help transport their belongings or secure those already left in the dormitories.
There are also many questions about the organization of the study plan, including part-time studies, as well as about study fees, student support, and possible shifts in the academic calendar.
– We do all we can to avoid or minimize such shifts. We are, however, dependent on further decisions of the government and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. For now, we have deferred all fees for studies until 30 April by a separate regulation. However, if some of the planned activities do not take place on time, we will introduce recalculations of fees. We will certainly provide students with all knowledge required in the curriculum, although in some cases it might take a little more time.
The same applies to the defense of diploma theses planned for the end of the current academic year or summer exam session. At the moment it is difficult to predict what the situation in the country will be like in one or two months’ time; we have to wait for the situation to develop. However, I can promise that we will develop and implement solutions that will help students to complete the next stages of their studies without significant delays.
As for the grants, it is possible to receive this form of support. Students who are now in a critical financial situation can apply for a one-off payment of up to PLN 1,200, maximum twice during one academic year.
What about student internships? In some fields they cannot be taken during the summer holidays but only during the academic year.
– We are in constant contact with companies and enterprises in which such internships take place. Unfortunately, the current epidemic situation strongly affects the smooth functioning of many companies, hence in this sphere we are dependent on their capabilities. In the worst case, the internships will have to be spread over time or transferred to the next academic year. However, I hope that this scenario will be avoided.
Foreign students are also in a difficult situation, some did not manage to return to their homes.
– It's true, we are in constant contact with them and, if necessary, we will prepare appropriate forms of help for them, or additional places in student houses. This is helped by the fact that, despite the suspension of classes, the university administration is still working - if not on site, then also remotely from home. This also applies to the International Relations Office, which constantly monitors the situation of our foreign guests and responds to their problems. I also appeal to other members of our academic community for support for our foreign students who are now in a very difficult situation.
In the coming weeks, all planned events at our university were canceled or postponed. At the beginning of May, however, the largest annual student party, Juwenalia, is planned.
– There is still a lot of time until May and we have to wait with the decision to cancel or keep the deadline. We will respond to the developing situation on a regular basis.
Is the implementation of the ministerial program "Initiative of Excellence - Research University" in any danger in the current situation? By obtaining the status of a research university, our scientists were to receive a number of new opportunities to expand their scientific and research activities.
– The IDUB program is not threatened, we are currently implementing the next stages. I have already mentioned the programs rewarding scientific publications, but these are only the first of many elements of support for our scientists and employees that we are currently preparing. The effects of this work will be announced in the coming weeks and, fortunately, we will be able to do it regardless of the epidemic situation in the country.