Foto Peter Aagaard Brixen

We are showing great strength during the corona crisis

Employees and students have effectively adapted to the new digital operations, but new ways to interact socially are needed, says Anders Bjarklev.

DTU President Anders Barkley is working from home. Phone calls, Skype meetings with up to 35 participants, and emails. This is the new state of things during the corona pandemic, where DTU’s operations went digital overnight on 11 March. The abnormal is becoming normal. And even after the government has extended the closing period and social restrictions for the Danish society until Easter Monday, Anders Bjarklev is confident that the University will emerge well from the crisis.

“I’m proud to be part of an extremely responsible institution where talented people take the situation very seriously, show what I would call exemplary behaviour, and really go the extra mile here. Even when having to balance childcare with academic issues,” says Anders Bjarklev.

Digital exams

Like other schools and universities, DTU is currently busy finding solutions for both teaching and exams, which for the BEng students are being carried out online today, primarily from DTU’s Ballerup Campus. And Anders Bjarklev has no doubt that all upcoming exams can be conducted online.

“We’ve already begun, but we know that the heavy lifting is still ahead of us when it’s time for the big written exams with 400 students. However, I have no doubt that we’ll find a solution,” says Anders Bjarklev.

He points out that the education sector has an obligation to ensure that no students are delayed in their programmes.

"I’m proud to be part of an extremely responsible institution where talented people take the situation very seriously, show what I would call exemplary behaviour, and really go the extra mile here."
Anders Bjarklev

“The corona crisis will be very costly for Denmark. And when it’s time for society to get back up and running, it’s no good if the universities have to report to the Danish parliament that there will be no new graduates within engineering, medicine, and other disciplines in the next six months. That would be a huge loss for society. And it would be a big loss for each individual student who is planning to have an income exceeding the SU ,” says Anders Bjarklev.

As Chairman of the Universities Denmark organization, Anders Bjarklev follows the Danish universities closely. The sector has a total of 150,000 students, and the current status is that the universities are up and running, in terms of both teaching and operations, and most research projects are also still progressing.

“The information I’m receiving tells me that people are spending their time wisely. If they can’t get into the lab, they put their efforts into writing an article instead, or they have an idea for a new project and set out to write a project application or getting up to date with the latest publications. At DTU, this has meant that the library is now extra busy,” says Anders Bjarklev. 

Social life under pressure

The closure of the University also has negative consequences for researchers who cannot access laboratories and thus have to postpone their projects. Anders Bjarklev is focused on getting help for both researchers and students who are experiencing problems due to the corona crisis. The situation may be particularly difficult for new students, who may feel isolated and without the opportunity for social contact, and PhD students, who are in the final stage of their project and may feel under pressure because they only have a few months left of their employment.

“The social element disappears during the digital operations, and I’m actually worried that there may be students who decide that it’s time to throw in the towel and take a six-month break. That would be a real shame, because after all—although the situation is serious—we have only been closed for two weeks,” says Anders Bjarklev.

He therefore encourages employees and students to submit good ideas for how digital platforms can become social communities.

“I hope that some of our big brains can come up with solutions for how to create chat rooms for those who have no one to talk to. Solutions the students can join and where the content is social. They could be groups for talking about the ups and downs—shopping and daily tasks such as finding hand sanitizer in the local supermarket or tips on how to help a loved one who’s ill. We need more social solutions like that—we don’t currently have enough of them,” says Anders Bjarklev.

As a good example he highlights the employees at DTU Entrepreneurship who have set up a virtual coffee-break space on Facebook where they can make small talk and share thoughts and photos from their home offices—just as you normally would during your workday at DTU by the coffee maker or over lunch.

Financial consequences

Anders Bjarklev expects that DTU’s finances will be affected by the corona crisis. This is partly because that DTU is the university with the highest ‘gearing’ in terms of external funding . And the extent to which this income is affected will impact DTU’s finances.

“At this stage we don’t know the consequences of the corona crisis. And I will say that I don’t think we should be overly concerned. I think most foundations—if not all—will understand that this is a special situation. One of the places that could be impacted with companies where we solve specific tasks for them. Perhaps they will be under so much pressure that they have to pull the plug on development work they have initiated.”

Anders Bjarklev believes it is important to stress that in comparison to so many other industries, the universities are privileged.

“I say that with all due respect to anyone thinking this is really hard. But we just have to say that here at the University we are actually able—to a large extent—to manage our tasks, even if they are affected by the situation. We can continue our work and production. And for the vast majority of us, we feel certain that things will continue when this is all over,” he says.

Everyone contributes

Anders Bjarklev describes the corona crisis as extraordinary and impactful. A crisis that is probably unique because it has such a profound impact on the lives of all Danes. All of a sudden, everything has to be done at a distance of 2-3 metres, we cannot go to the cinema, we cannot go to a restaurant, a café, or a party. Anders Bjarklev feels personally affected by the seriousness of the crisis.

“People have many concerns, but they fight on nonetheless. And they’re doing the right thing. I haven’t met anyone who thinks: ‘It doesn’t matter—I can’t make any difference anyway.’ I truly believe everyone is committed to contributing to the situation, even if we can’t all of us do as much as the doctors and nurses who save lives every day.

But we can make sure that teaching continues, we can make sure that the library and IT systems are up and running, we can communicate so that people know their options. There are a lot of tasks that are important to making sure this doesn’t get any worse than it already is. And I think that’s extremely important,” says Anders Bjarklev.