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2020 leaves us stronger than before


What a year this has been… one topic that dominated everything – that’s something we haven’t seen in the last few decades. But were there any positive things about the past year? The answer is definitely ‘yes’!

At the time you may not realise it, because you’re being pushed along by current events (i.e. the epidemiological situation). But the advantage of a crisis that lasts for months is that, after a while, you can look back. And what do we see? The fact that we’ve actually learnt a lot from all the problems.

In the middle of March, we switched to distance learning. A huge amount of work was done by a huge number of people, from all parts of the university. It wasn’t just the first few weeks that were difficult. We had to keep making plans, refining them, changing them and starting again, in all colours of the rainbow. And it’s not easy to keep going. 

But I learnt that the University of Antwerp, a large organisation with about 21,000 students and more than 6000 members of staff, can move quickly. It was only possible because everyone was willing to be flexible and to work together across departmental and faculty boundaries.

Of course not everything went smoothly, but we learned from our mistakes and fixed things where necessary. The positive commitment of so many people, both staff and students, has given us a real boost. Corona has really strengthened our community, and we’re prouder than ever of our university.

In the future, we will also reap the benefits of everything we have learnt about blended learning and online tools. We’d already taken steps in that direction in previous years. Now, suddenly, we can move forward with a whole range of best practices.

With regard to research, our university is now firmly on the map. Our corona study and dozens of other innovative research projects are proving the university’s relevance to society more than ever. The pandemic is bound to have a fundamental influence on the research agenda and policy in the coming years as well, including considerations about open science.

The last few months have been hard, but we have also learnt a lot and enjoyed positive moments too. We can’t get back to normal just yet. There are still some difficult months ahead of us, but there is hope. Our university will come out of it stronger.

Article by Prof. Herman van Goethem, Rector of the University of Antwerp.

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