May 30, 2020

Iceland reopens universities, Denmark and Finland will do so before autumn



While Icelandic universities have reopened with restrictions since the beginning of this month, Denmark and Finland plan to do so before the end of the summer and in Norway and Sweden it is not yet clear what will happen next year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic .

Although not all the Nordic countries closed their primary schools in mid-March, when the first restrictive measures for the coronavirus were decreed, they did institutes and universities that, except in Iceland, continue to be closed, although with exceptions for laboratories and works of countryside.

Iceland, which registered the last death by COVID-19 a month ago and has barely detected any contagions in recent weeks, began the first phase of its de-escalation on May 4 with a broad resumption of public life, which included a slow reopening and gradual of the universities.

The seven campuses of the University of Iceland have been open since then, but with quite a few restrictions, due to hygiene and social distance rules, as well as concentrations of people in public spaces.

Thus, for example, the number of chairs per table in study classrooms, laboratories and in any university premises has been limited to comply with the two-meter distance rule and the number of people together, at 50, the maximum allowed by The authorities.

Limitations have also been established for the staff of university centers, establishing either two shifts or moving half of them to another temporary workplace, without both groups being in contact to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

Those restrictions could be alleviated starting next week, since on Monday the number of people concentrated allowed is expanded to 200 and, in three weeks, it could rise to 500, according to the epidemiologist chief of the Health Directorate a few days ago. , Þórólfur Guðnason.

The reopening has allowed the calendar of examinations to be maintained at universities, which have expanded their calendar of summer courses, which will be accessible to students residing abroad.

SCHEDULED OPENING IN DENMARK FOR AUGUST

According to the normalization plan presented a few weeks ago by the Social Democratic Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, the opening of universities is included in the fourth phase, scheduled for August, although a date has not yet been specified, nor is how it will develop.

Apart from the restrictions related to hygiene and the social distance of one meter, it remains to be clarified how large the concentrations of people allowed by the authorities by then will be, which are currently reduced to just ten.

The government has already announced that it will raise to 30 or 50 people the number of people allowed in early June, but it is not clear which rule will apply in August, making the reopening uncertain.

The good evolution of the epidemic in Denmark – the authorities consider it to be controlled and rule out a new wave, although not specific outbreaks – and the pressure of the opposition caused Frederiksen to announce an expansion of the second phase a few days ago, bringing several measures forward several weeks .

These include the full opening of investigative activities that require physical presence, which will be allowed from Wednesday, as well as teaching and oral exams in some subjects and the return to the workplace of all public university employees, except in Copenhagen and its area of ​​influence, the main center of the epidemic in this country.

The investigation had already partially opened in the middle of this month in some cases, but in a very small way, while much of public life and education has been resumed, prompting protests from several professors from the three main universities, They sent an open letter to the Government and Parliament.

“We believe that more researchers can return without increasing the contagion rate. Thousands of schoolchildren have returned, bars, restaurants and many other things are underway. We do something that is as important as serving beer,” protested this week the president of the Danish university grouping, Anders Bjarklev.

FINLAND PREPARES TO REOPEN CENTERS IN SEPTEMBER

In Finland there is also great uncertainty as to whether the next academic year may start normally or the current restrictions will be maintained, although the improvement in the situation in recent weeks invites some optimism.

“It is still early to make a decision because we still do not know how the pandemic will evolve, but if the situation does not worsen, the universities will resume face-to-face education when the next academic year begins, in early September,” Maija Innola, adviser, told Efe of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The Finnish government decreed in mid-March the closure of all schools in the country, with few exceptions in preschool and primary education, a measure that was in force for two months.

In mid-May, with the pandemic under control, the Finnish Executive ordered the reopening of schools and kindergartens, but recommended that all universities and other higher education institutions continue distance education at least until the beginning of the next academic year .

However, it left in the hands of the universities the possibility of organizing face-to-face teaching according to needs.

For the next academic year, the most affected have been, for the moment, the thousands of high school students who choose the few university places available, since the entrance tests are being carried out for the first time online and not always with the best guarantees.

OSLO UNIVERSITY TO CONTINUE ONLINE TEACHING IN AUTUMN

The Norwegian campuses are still closed and it is not clear when they will be able to open, since the authorities have not given a concrete solution for the universities, so that distance learning is maintained and it has already been decided that most of the exams in this course be digital.

Since the end of April, however, access to laboratories and testing facilities is allowed if it is “absolutely necessary” to complete the education and if it is acceptable according to the health rules, in artistic subjects, of science, technology, health, design and audiovisuals.

Several universities such as the one in Oslo, the main one in the country, and the one in Trondheim have announced that they will continue teaching online in the autumn and have already suspended the exchange programs for foreign students for the first term, while others have only done so with students from outside Europe.

UNCERTAINTY IN SWEDISH UNIVERSITIES

In a situation of uncertainty, the universities of Sweden also remain, closed on the recommendation of the authorities since March 18, as well as the institutes, although not the schools or kindergartens, within the softest line of restrictions followed by the Government. Swedish, compared to the rest of the Nordic countries and most of Europe.

Some of the main Swedish universities such as Stockholm or Uppsala maintain distance learning until August 30 and have not yet made a decision on the next course, although they have shown their desire to reopen in the autumn.

Others, on the other hand, such as the one in Gothenburg, have prolonged Internet teaching until October 31, and that of Malmoe, until November 8.

Uncertainty about the next course has led some universities to temporarily suspend their exchange programs with foreign students.

Anxo Lamela / Juanjo Galán

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