At the beginning of September 2021, together with the rectors of the five other founding universities of our European network Eutopia, I welcomed to Brussels the rectors of three new universities that are joining our network. These were very special encounters for many reasons.
First and maybe foremost, because, after all these months, we were finally able to meet again in person. When, in March 2020, we had to make a head-over-heels decision to continue the university's work online, we may all have hoped it would be something very short-lived. Also, because none of us could at that moment imagine exactly how it would work: keeping a university running in online mode. But somehow we managed. In no time, teachers were trained in the use of new ways of organising their teaching online, protocols were drawn up to continue essential work in the labs, and new temporary governing bodies were created to guide the university through these extraordinary times. We managed, thanks to the dedication and unwavering perseverance of so many.
Many lessons can be drawn from the past period, but I would especially like to highlight three.
One, inequality exists. Covid has also made that clear. The chances of getting sick, of dying, are unevenly distributed in this society. Those who are poor, those who have less schooling, who are of colour or who have a migration background have been hit harder by this crisis. We have also seen this among our students. Try taking part in online education when you don't have a computer or study space or when you have to share it with siblings. Try keeping up with your courses when you don't know how to keep paying your bills, because all the student jobs have been cut. Inequality exists. Inequality is getting sharper.
Two, this generation of students is strong and resilient. Over the past year and a half, they have done a great job, sometimes in a very difficult context. I am thinking in particular of the student representatives. For the past year and a half, they have actually co-managed the university. I am so grateful to them for their fresh perspective on things, for their countless inspiring suggestions, for their sometimes harsh, but fair and always constructive criticism.
Three, although all of us are happy to once again be able to come to campus, we should give education based on blended learning – some in the classroom, some online, some off campus – a fair and, above all, a greater chance. For too long, the basis of our pedagogical project has still been primarily based on ex cathedra teaching. We should provide more time and space for informal and interactive learning. Blended learning can be helpful in making this transition possible.
Even before Covid, my university had started this movement towards more mixed forms of learning. Through the weKONEKT.brussels project, we brought students into contact with the city, with the professional field, with practitioners. By holding classes in what might become their future workplace, by involving practitioners in education, not only did education become richer, but students got a more realistic picture of the labour market.
We are now sharing that model with our Eutopia partners. This is, in our opinion, the way forward to ensure that our students will be future proof when they graduate and will have acquired the necessary skills and competences for the challenges they will have to face later in life.