For the first time in more than two years, Estonian higher education institutions will start the academic year without covid-related restrictions. Estonian universities hope to be able to proceed with contact, rather than remote, teaching and learning throughout the academic year.
While last year universities were preparing for the covid restrictions, this year the situation is calmer.
"In fact, it's a similar approach to the one we took last year," said Aune Valk, vice rector for academic affairs at the University of Tartu. "Although last year we were definitely more cautious and the situation with vaccinations was confusing. If students were not vaccinated, we encouraged them to do so. This year, we will start teaching as if it was a normal year," said Valk.
According to Ina Järve, head of the teaching department at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, last year the university was dependent on national restrictions. "The University of Life Sciences is now planning as much on-site teaching as possible. At least at the beginning of the academic year, we are not imposing any special or major restrictions. It is up to lecturers to decide whether or not to conduct lectures electronically, but we have no plans at the moment to impose restrictions centrally because of the coronavirus," Järve said.
Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) will also start the academic year with contact teaching. "In the meantime, we have rebuilt our classrooms to make the transition to hybrid learning quite easy. This year we will start teaching as usual, but we have been quietly thinking about, and preparing for, those situations when we might need to switch to hybrid learning," said Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Hendrik Voll.
Although the University of Tartu has also acquired the necessary equipment for hybrid learning, on-site teaching is still preferred. "It's clear, after these corona-affected years, we want to do teaching on site. We have realized that this is the most important thing, especially for first-year students. It gives them an understanding of what university education is all about, and also helps them to settle in," said Valk.
TalTech lecturers have the freedom to decide whether they want to teach their courses face-to-face, hybrid or using distance learning. "We have also suggested to lecturers that if at all possible, we could still bring people back to campus and start contact learning this year. Learning is one thing, but it's another to know that, for any student, the years spent at university are the best time of their life. Socializing and interaction is (a big) part of that," Voll said.
Editor: Michael Cole