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Pro-rector and rector: "Prioritise letting students return to campus"

Both students and teaching staff are losing motivation. In their article in the online newspaper Altinget, Berit Eika and Brian Bech Nielsen write that politicians should discuss the gradual reopening of reading rooms, associations/clubs and research activities when negotiating a further reopening of society.

For months now, 35,000 students at Aarhus University have not had access to student life, reading rooms, group rooms, or classrooms. In other words, they have not had access to campus.

The students have demonstrated a high degree of social responsibility and patience, and they have also been very understanding of the fact that they were not at the front of the queue in the gradual reopening of society.

All the while, they have continued their studies under restrictive conditions, and this has only been possible because staff at the university have been incredibly flexible and worked hard to convert to digital operations in record time.

But we need to ask whether the university's flexibility and the patience of our students and staff have lulled politicians into complacency about to our situation.

Students need their community

Universities have so far not figured prominently in the public discourse on the political prioritisation of what aspects of our society should be reopened.

Unfortunately, the costs of continuing to keep students and staff at home have now become very clear.

Several studies have shown that students and teaching staff are losing their motivation. Poor mental health and reduced well-being are rising in the residence halls, and there are indications that the lockdown is affecting some people’s mental health to such a degree that recovery will take a long time.

In short, like all other young people, our students need to reconnect with other young people and with society as a whole.

We are also very concerned about our new students, who have not been able to connect with other students or with their teachers at the university, and who are even more vulnerable to loneliness.

The vibrant associations and clubs at the university bring both joy and a sense of solidarity. The reading rooms and group rooms play a major role in learning and in creating a sense of community. These are important elements of student life; elements we should prioritise in the upcoming reopening. 

Gradual reopening

Furthermore, we also have researchers, PhD students, postdocs and thesis students who need to complete projects within a short timeframe.

For many, their work has already been delayed, and bear in mind that once we reopen the universities, important resources such as supervision and facilities will be under enormous pressure. There will be a risk of bottlenecks, which will only increase the longer we are forced to wait. 

During the next round of negotiations, we therefore urge politicians to prioritise allowing students and staff to return to campus.

We do not expect a full reopening of the universities until after the summer holiday. However, it should be possible to discuss a gradual reopening of reading rooms, associations/clubs and research activities.

If our students and staff are to keep their spirits up, they must be able to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.