Rector: ‘Change will be gradual’

What will the campus look like after 1 September? Who may be there and who has to stay at home? TU Delft has a preferred scenario, says Rector Tim van der Hagen.

Tim van der Hagen: “I hope that this crisis is a wake-up call.” (Photo: Jeroen Bouman)

Skype, Zoom, Teams, and a lot of emails. Like those of a lot of people, the days of Rector Magnificus and Executive Board, Tim van der Hagen, merge together in digital meetings. His first meeting often starts at eight o’clock in the morning and they can go on until 11 o’clock at night. He comes to campus once a week at the most to set a good example. “It is a very intensive way to work for everyone,” he says. It’s not for nothing that his secretary preferred telephone meetings. This interview was thus also by phone.

Van der Hagen is now facing the task of shaping the forthcoming academic year. What will the campus look like? Who may be there and when? And how can the traffic flows remain manageable? Five working groups are currently working with the Municipality of Delft and the Haaglanden security region to think about solutions.

Their advice must be on the table at the end of June and the Executive Board, in agreement with the Municipality, will have to take decisions. The deadline is mostly because of the approaching summer. Van der Hagen hopes that staff will go on holiday. “I see that people are really tired. It is amazing how resilient the TU Delft community is, and it is great that so much can be done online. But resilience only goes so far. People need to relax.”

‘We are thinking of organising things according to postal code’

What will the new academic year look like?
“We need to manage expectations. We will not be able to continue as usual after 1 September. The changes will have to be gradual and phased in slowly. I understand people’s bewilderment if they come in and see a completely empty office. They think that they will be safe there. But the problem is not the office itself, but the public space A lot of people have to cross those roads, to go shopping, for example, or to practice a vital profession. They do not always have online options. It goes without saying that I attach great value to student-teacher interaction, but we do have that online option, even if it is second best. At the moment we are working with the security region on agreeing what we can do on campus.”

What would be your preference?
“I would like as much as possible to go ahead, but the Government has issued the ruling that as of 15 June, educational activities and exams can only start or end between 11:00 and 15:00 or after 20:00. You need permission from the Mayor for activities outside these times. We are thinking of organising things according to postal code. So if you live in one postal code, we expect you to walk to campus. Those in another postal code can cycle, and another postal code can use public transport. We will make time slots for different groups. We are also thinking about extending our timetables and making the cycling routes to and from the TU Delft one way. We are discussing these in the security region and with all stakeholders. It will be give and take.”

You previously said that preference on campus would be given to first year bachelor and master students. How will you do this?
“They will be able to come to campus in smaller groups and at specific times. This alone is a complex puzzle to arrange and these groups alone constitute 4,000 to 5,000 people. But they are very important groups. Young people who have to learn to find their way in our community, city and in their new lives in these exceptional times. This cannot be done only online. But when the bridge to the campus opens and there are 100 people waiting there, this creates an undesirable situation.”

What kind of campus will be waiting for them? One with plastic screens, tape on the floor, face masks?
“The first two definitely. We are following RIVM (Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) guidelines.”

Will the rest of the teaching also be done remotely after the summer?
“If we can even give 20% of teaching on campus, that would be wonderful. So most of the teaching will stay online, yes.”

Until when?
“That I can’t really say. We are working on this scenario, but there are also other scenarios that we have to consider. The virus may resurge in the summer, or we may ease up on 1 September and then have to go back. You can play tennis at X again as there is enough space. The question is, how do you get to X? You use the same routes as the students who go to lectures. If I had to prioritise one of the two, I would choose the latter.”

‘Maybe some of the teaching and exams will remain online’

The exams at the moment are being done online wherever possible. There is more and more discussion about online proctoring. What do you say to students who object?
“We need to protect privacy as much as we can. We are doing everything we can. This situation is new and we needed alternatives to exams on campus fast. The priority is to avoid study delays. We need to weigh up all the interests. We are discussing these thoroughly and are thinking about alternatives for students who object.”

Why not simply hold more exams on campus? The Government is allowing them.
“You will then always have students who are unable to come and that will double the workload of the teaching staff. There was a need for clarity on the exams and that is why we took this decision.”

Just before the corona crisis started, TU Delft announced a far-reaching multidisplinary collaboration with the Erasmus MC and Erasmus University. This is very fortunate in light of the corona crisis. Will TU Delft put even more efforts into this relationship?
“I hope that this crisis is a wake-up call. We need to get on with each other and with the planet better. I hope that we do not go back to the old society and that will be more attention for people, animals and nature. This is only an extra stimulus for our joint research and we should go full steam ahead with this in mind. I also see other advantages of the crisis. Scientists who are thinking more critically about attending all the conferences, for example. They now see that much can be done online and how much time it saves. And similarly, a lot of people are seeing the advantages of working from home. So maybe some of the teaching and exams will remain online.”

And what about TU Delft’s finances?
“Fortunately we are not as dependent on income from tuition fees from students from outside the European Union as some universities in England are, so the impact is not that bad. We do expect a drop in research funding from industry, but that said, many companies are seeing the importance of innovation. After a dip, things will revive. In any case, there are no implications for our current staff.”

Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

Do you have a question or comment about this article?

Comments are closed.