Universities, colleges approach to COVID-19 measures vary widely ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Members of a student fraternity in Estonia.
Members of a student fraternity in Estonia. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Higher education institutes in Estonia have adopted slightly differing approaches to coronavirus mitigation methods, ranging from three-tier warning levels, to requiring all English-language courses be taught remotely, through to a general requirement for following Health Board recommendations.

ERR's online news in Estonian looked at several universities and higher education academies and colleges, a little over a week after the new academic year began. 

University of Tartu: A, B, C levels

The University of Tartu wrote in the September edition of its newsletter, Universitas Tartuensis, that it had developed three scenarios: From A (most positive) to C (bleakest).

Scenario A would see normal studies, with social distancing and hygiene practices in place.

The university adds that this is currently most likely,

Scenario B would involve classroom and virtual learning taking place at the same time, with subjects attracting larger numbers of students (more than 30) only take place as e-learning or by fulfilling the maximum 50 percent capacity rule and requiring mask wearing.

Different faculties have their own regulations as well; for instance economics, maths and IT students must register online before each lecture, for close contact purposes should an outbreak occur.

Scenario C would see nearly all teaching done remotely online. Again, this has happened in one faculty at the university – third year law students had to engage in remote learning after an infected student had attended a lecture.

TalTech: English-language courses must be taught remotely

TalTech has taken the strongest line, at least as far as overseas students are concerned.

All English-language curricula, and one Estonian-language course, have been sent to distance learning, 8 Hendrik Voll, Vice-Rector for Studies at TalTech told ETV magazine show "Terevisioon" Tuesday.

Of nine TalTech students who have contracted COVID-19, eight are from overseas, he said.

Voll explained that as of Tuesday, nine TUT students were infected, eight of whom were foreigners.

In any case, TalTech said last month that it would not be admitting third-country (loosely defined as non-EU/EEA-ed.) students for the 2020-2021 academic year.

At present, the university was still at the lowest level of alert, however, Voll said.

"TalTech has developed three scenarios, / --- / green, yellow and red in the traffic light system. At the moment we are in green, it is flashing green."

Hybrid studies, with some classes online and others in-class, are in place, though at present auditoria lectures in Estonian are going on and labs and other facilities are open.

TalTech sets alert "green" at 25 new infections in Tallinn in the preceding 14 days, with "yellow" ranging from 26-49.

The latter stage would make mask wearing strongly recommended, boost e-learning components and impose a maximum 50 percent capacity rule in auditoriums.

Code "Red" would move all studies online, with some exceptions for small groups where masks were mandatory. 50 or more new infections in Tallinn would trigger this phase.

All students who have participated in lectures at TalTech must register, regardless of warning level.

Tallinn University has additional "blue" level as well as "traffic light" system

Tallinn University (TÜ) has a similar color-based system with the same infection rates for each stage as TalTech, while mask-wearing is mandatory if auditorium capacity exceeds 50 percent. Lecturers must also don a face mask if they cannot guarantee a three-meter minimum distance from students, the university says in its guidelines.

Yellow level would lead to students having to spend a minimal time on-site at the university, with red moving everything online.

TÜ also has a "blue" scenario, which would be initiated by a government emergency situation.

University of Life Sciences has no concrete plan

The website of the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti Maaülikool) in Tartu states that students should follow Health Board instructions of the Health Board in their behavior, and they are advised to avoid crowded places, practice social distancing and wear a mask.

"There are currently no restrictions on conducting studies at the university, and the lecturer follows what is the best teaching method in their own opinion. However, more e-learning can take place than before," the university's website says.

Art academy can only be entered with security card

The Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) can be accessed only between 8.00 a.m. and 11.00 p.m., and then only with a door card.

More than 30 students in a classroom, or over 90 in the hallway, requires the wearing of a mask. One larger auditorium requires same if more than 45 people are present.

Professors, lecturers and other teachers can request students wear a mask; recent arrivals from coronavirus-risk countries (which is most European countries at present – ed.) must also wear a mask if they are not having to self-quarantine at home (which can be circumvented by passing negative on two COVID-19 tests within a week).

EKA has not prepared any other separate scenarios.

Ebe Pilt, Head of Communication at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater (EAMT) in Tallinn, told ERR that wearing a mask is recommended in the EAMT premises, but in reality few people do so.

"As for teaching, we are ready to switch to distance learning, if necessary, starting with those subjects that take place in a lecture format and are a little easier to transfer over to distance," she said, adding that some subjects, such as piano and choir conducting, do not lend themselves to that.

The EAMT has not prepared separate scenarios and stresses following Health Board regulations, and that international students have gone through 14-day quarantine after arriving in Estonia, if they have come from high-risk countries.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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