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End of the chapter

End of the chapter

The UB community highlights the positive aspects of the academic year 2021-2022 and what needs to improve regarding September

With the arrival of August, the University of Barcelona is officially closing the chapter of the academic year 2021-2022. Although the feeling of inertia may seem hard to avoid —welcome sessions, semesters, examinations and activities that go hand in hand every year—, the UB community finds a different and unique course every year. The focus of the 2021-2022 year was the recovery of the university life. Teaching and research staff, students and the administrative and services staff all agree that the return to face-to-face activities is the most important milestone.

The UB community highlights the positive aspects of the academic year 2021-2022 and what needs to improve regarding September

“Seeing each other again has been vital for us lecturers, as well as for the students. We had missed having a more direct contact with the students. We recovered previous dynamics and we restarted teaching innovation projects which required face-to-face attendance. The students have been able to fully experience what it means to be a university student”, says Raúl Ramos, vice-rector for Internationalization Policy and professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the UB.

Mariona Tomàs, tenure-track 2 lecturer of Political Sciences at the Faculty of Law, thinks “this academic year has been positive thanks to the face-to-face lessons”. “The last part, without having to use the face masks, was specially satisfying”, she says. An opinion shared by Imad Benhessou, who has coursed the first year of the bachelor’s degree in Medicine in the Clinic Campus: “This year has been an enriching and special one. I learned a lot and I met a lot of people, an experience that would have been different if the lessons had been online”.

Academically speaking, the pandemic hasn’t had a negative impact regarding university admissions. According to the statistical data of the University of Barcelona, the interest in studying a university degree has not only been maintained, but it has increased. Antoni Forés, director of the Accademic and Teaching Support Area, says that “for the 2022-2023 academic year, the UB is, once more, the Catalan university with the highest demand in first-choice applications. Specifically, it has been chosen as first option by 18,802 students, which accounts for an increase by 5.59% compared to last year”.

The rector of the University of Barcelona, Joan Guàrdia, shares this satisfaction for the recovery of a “certain normality”, but he notes that the pandemic has changed the uses of the University of Barcelona: “We are still in a situation of health surveillance and we have had to get used to new ways of working, teaching and sharing spaces”.

Goals achieved?

During the academic year 2021-2022, 41,403 bachelor’s degree students, 5,318 master’s degree students and 5,007 doctoral students have stepped into the UB. About 14,500 of them have enjoyed their first experience at the UB. New faces, new experiences, new dreams. The UB community tries to live up to their expectations.

One objective which is closely linked to one of the constant demands of the Catalan university system over recent years: the need for a fair funding. “Another noteworthy aspect of this academic year has been the increase in the budget of the Catalan government”, says the rector, who also points out that this increase has been in finalist terms. “We have solved issues such as the University investment plan, in which the UB made a notable investment, but we need to solve structural aspects of the budget in non-funding parts”, notes Guàrdia.

The stabilisation of the UB administrative and services staff was one more priority of this academic year. “The UB Governing Council heard the expression ‘historical moment’ for the first time”, notes the rector, indicating the importance of this measure. “The number of calls for places and the reduction of temporality are great news for the institution”, he says.

However, Guàrdia admits there is a room for improvement in some aspects, such as the rejuvenation of the teaching and research staff. “We have taken some steps in this direction, for instance, the raise of salaries for adjunct lecturers, the call for promotion positions to stabilize the accredited ajunct lecturers and the regularization processes of Ramón y Cajal, among other measures”, notes the rector.

The efforts of the university community to tackle the challenges of its tasks are valued with different nuances according to the different groups that make it up. In this respect, Benhessou brings the fresh vision of a student who has just started his university journey: “What I highlight the most is that I have met open, friendly and intelligent people, from whom I have learned many things”, he says. Regarding the teaching staff, he highlights their specialisation and the “correct transmission of knowledge”. However, regarding the areas that need improvement, he points out that there are not that many members of the administrative staff, which “makes it difficult to correctly resolve any incidents that occur during the academic year”.

Towards a digital revolution

It is a fact that new technologies have penetrated all the dimensions of the university. The pandemic has accelerated an irreversible process: the digitalisation of university education. Xavier Triadó, vice-rector for Digital Transformation, acknowledges that the university, a leader in many aspects, has not yet been able to reflect this change correctly. “The pandemic has opened up possibilities that we have not yet taken advantage of: the coexistence of face-to-face and virtual activities to add value, not because one modality replaces the other”, says Triadó. “With COVID-19” —he says— we have learned that there are other ways of doing things, more efficiently and with the same intensity. The future trend, in institutions like ours, will be to combine face-to-face attendance with reflection on this face-to-face attendance and its preparation, i.e., fewer hours of face-to-face lessons and more online preparatory work, for example.

According to a recent study carried out by Irish universities, 44% of students believe that their ideal training format would consist of online resources and tutorials, while 56% would choose on-campus, face-to-face classroom discussions. Triadó believes that the feeling of the UB student is along these lines. Imad Benhessou believes that digital tools are a good resource to complement teaching, “but their use should be adjusted to the type of subject and the way each lecturer explains the subject, to avoid unnecessary excesses”. “Anything that allows a practical aspect to be added to theoretical subjects enriches teaching”, he adds.


Students


Mariona Tomàs believes that one of the lessons we learned from COVID-19, and therefore from online teaching, is the need to reinforce “variety in learning activities”. “Keeping students’ attention online is more difficult. Therefore, we were forced to innovate in order to get their attention. I tried to get them to work on the activities beforehand, and then share them with the group. When we returned to face-to-face teaching, I incorporated this practice into the classroom. It has been a positive experience”, says the lecturer of the Faculty of Law. In the book Propuestas sobre la docencia del Derecho después de la pandemia. Ponencias de la Jornada sobre experiencias docentes en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Barcelona en tiempos de COVID-19, published by the Faculty of Law, lecturer Tomàs gives details on some of the tools she used for virtual teaching.

“This year, we have laid the foundations after analysing the state of the digitalisation of the UB. We have carried out some actions, such as the ethical phishing campaign to detect vulnerabilities. And until December 2023, we will provide the university community with tools to improve their digital skills”, says Triadó.

The university, facing the war`

On 24 February this year, Russia made its threat to attack Ukraine a reality and started a conflict that has lasted to this day and which, according to UNHCR figures, has caused more than 5.6 million refugees and more than 7.1 million displaced people in the country. In response to this humanitarian emergency, the UB has offered a solid response: a support programme for the Ukrainian university community.

A month after the outbreak of those hostilities, the UB received professors Oleksandr Martynenko and Maryna Martynenko, which was the starting point for one of the most important actions of this programme: the temporary hosting of teaching and research staff from Ukraine. Vice-rector Ramos explains that the UB is currently hosting fourteen lecturers from Ukraine: “Thanks to the collaboration and support of the UB Solidarity Foundation, the University of Barcelona was quickly able to set up a temporary hosting programme for teaching and research staff and also a transition course at the University for Ukrainian students. Despite the misfortune, our assessment of these actions is positive. “Next year we will be able to establish links with Ukrainian universities in a much stronger way, and will cooperate remotely to help those who have not been able to leave the country”, he concludes.

Working towards gender equality

Equality policies have been one of the key issues of the academic year 2021-2022. On 13 May, the University’s Governing Council approved the new protocol against harassment, thus reinforcing the UB’s commitment to combat this menace. The new document improves legal and psychological care for victims and simplifies the reporting procedure to make it more efficient.

The vice-rector for Equal Opportunities and Gender of the UB, Montserrat Puig, also highlights —as measures implemented this academic year— the start of the diagnosis of the Equality Plan, the pilot test of the adaptation of toilets to the use of menstrual cups and the survey to detect the needs of well-being and work-life balance in the faculties.

Regarding the 2022-2023 academic year, Puig establishes the incorporation of the SDGs into teaching and research and the promotion of the emotional well-being of students as key axes.

Looking to the future

Looking ahead to the academic year 2022-2023, the rector sets three priorities: “First, we will begin to implement all the UniDigital projects, which will allow us to accelerate digitisation. Second, this will be the academic year when we will begin to programme investment in UB furniture in order to make up for some clear shortcomings. And, third, I would like to highlight the implementation of the new university order, which is a great opportunity to regularise our offer and improve the construction of the syllabuses”.

Finally, during the last semester of 2022, efforts will also focus on encouraging student participation in making University work: “This is a key and strategic aspect. We need to open up and explain ourselves so that students want to get involved in the dynamics of their university”, concludes the rector.

Joan Guàrdia, rector of the University of Barcelona.
Montserrat Puig, vice-rector for Equal Opportunities and Gender of the UB.
Xavier Triadó, vice-rector for Digital Transformation.
Oleksándr and Maryna Martynenko.
Mariona Tomàs, tenure-track 2 lecturer of Political Sciences at the Faculty of Law.
Imad Benhessou, student of Medicine at the Clinic Campus.