It’s not yet been decided whether studies this autumn will go back to normal or stay remote, says Jouko Niinimäki, the rector of the University of Oulu. The goal, however, is to return to normal.
“We hope and believe that we can get back to normal by autumn. At the moment, we believe that the corona situation will in any case calm down for summer. It’s safe to assume that all adults will have at least one dose of the vaccine by August.”
Niinimäki says that national or regional exit-plans may restrict the university’s hopes, as they will decide in which order services will return back to normal. The university has announced earlier that it’s preparing to organise courses as contact-teaching from the 1st of August onwards.
According to the rector, the university hasn’t made any exact plans about transferring to contact-teaching nor planned separate guides for teachers.
“No instructions for autumn have been planned, and there won’t be any guides from the university management. Instead, they’ll be decisions made by teachers and students on the field”, Niinimäki comments.
When last autumn contact-teaching was mainly secured for freshmen, this time around the goal is to offer contact-teaching for everyone. The hope is that everyone could start normally, Niinimäki says. However, it’s not purely a return to the old normal.
“During the pandemic, we’ve learned some things both in work and study life that we want to keep. I believe that neither students nor teachers want to return to quite the same daily routine as before the pandemic, but instead some remote work will become permanent.”
According to Niinimäki, remote studies have brought people more freedom and decision-making power about their own schedules. However, it’s not the purpose to get stuck with remote work forever.
“Contact-teaching is extremely important, and the university will continue to keep offering contact-teaching as much as possible. It’s well known even through research that time spent together with the teacher improves learning.”
However, mass lectures for hundreds of students might benefit from being remote in the future as well, the rector thinks. If the teaching is one-sided, there’s not that much of a difference whether teaching happens in the same physical location.
Entrance exams to test things out
For this spring, teaching will continue remotely, but contact-teaching will be tested with the spring’s entrance examinations. Last spring universities arranged entrance examinations through alternative methods, such as digital exams and acceptance based on grades. The changes of the criteria received critiquing, which Niinimäki agrees with.
“The critiquing was justifiable, and I agree with it. Because of it, universities have now decided to arrange entrance examinations in person. When you look at the national corona situation, I’m confident that it’s going to be fine.”
Niinimäki emphasises the increased safety measures of the exams and the fact that there’s enough space for each candidate on campus. However, there’s still a problem with examinations being arranged in person: if a candidate is in quarantine, they can’t participate in the exams this year at all. The common guide for universities states that a candidate who’s otherwise ill, in a voluntary quarantine or waiting for test results must also not participate in the exam.
“Due to getting ill, there might be individual injustices. They’re sad things and personal tragedies, but as for corona, you can say that if someone wants to protect themselves from an infection before the exam, all needed means are available.”
This year 20 133 people applied for the University of Oulu, which is over 3000 more applicants than last year. Despite the large number of candidates, rector Niinimäki is positive that the University will get through the examinations safely.
“I hope that people coming to the examinations live so they won’t get an infection before the examination. I trust that things will go well in Oulu, and that an easier time will dawn by autumn.”
In practice an easier time in autumn would mean contact learning for both new and old students and a return to the old normal in August.