3IN-Webinar Mai 2020

Responses to the crisis – a transnational view

Summary of the content of the international lecture “Responses to the crisis – a transnational view”, organized by the project FHWS 3IN of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt.

Place: Online, Virtual Conference

Date: Thursday, 14th May 2020; 14:30 - 17:00

Friday, 15th May 2020; 14:00 - 17:00

[Translate to Englisch:] Online Vorlesung

The two-day online conference “Responses to the crisis – a transnational view” was organized by FHWS 3IN of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt, member of the 3IN Alliance. Additionally to our two lecturers from FHWS in Germany, eight invited lecturers from five different universities from all over Europe came together in order to give an insight into the current situation due to COVID-19 in their home countries. Instead of the “International Week”, which would have taken place the week before, this online conference was organized to continue intercultural exchange between the countries during times of isolation.

After a warm welcome by the president of FHWS, Prof. Dr. Robert Grebner, the conference started with a short introduction, given by Dr. Kristina Gehring, organiser of the conference and member of the project team FHWS 3IN. She emphasised that European countries, societies and universities have different strategies in dealing with COVID-19. This conference provided room for discussions about those and gave the opportunity to learn from each other.

The two-day conference was divided into nine different speeches, each followed by a discussion session with the audience.

DAY 1 - Thursday, 14th of May

In the first speech, Dr. Daniel Wimmer, head of the international office of FHWS, gave an insight into “how to make an HEI crisis-proof”. He gave an overview of the situation in Germany followed by saying that FHWS had to respond practically to the crisis by considering two aspects: Firstly, healthy and safety measures and secondly, the continuity of operational services. As he continued, he stressed six steps which are all linked to each other. 1. LISTEN: It is important to listen, in order to sense eventual uneasiness spread amongst members of the FHWS. 2. GET PREPARED: The highest priority for the HEI was to secure the continuity of operational series. It was difficult to achieve this, since each management faced similar questions but needed to find contextualized solutions. This was a main aspect to keep in mind while preparing the continuity of operational series. 3. ANALYSE: Questions like “Are there any infected persons in the department?” or “Does the budget need to be rearranged?” had to be solved in order to act, which leads to the next step: 4. ACT: Measures had to become more severe. From the postponement of the lecture period to the installation of dividing walls between desks to avoid droplet infections – measurement were taken. 5. TALK: All actions had to be communicated to the various groups throughout the university to reach a certain level of transparency. 6. TRUST: For the speaker, this step was extremely important, as trust between students, professors, staff and university management is the key for successful crisis management.

In the second speech, Jana Midelfart and Øystein Wendelbo, who are experts working in a Norwegian hospital at VID Specialized University, started their speech with the basic facts about the virus. Øystein Wendelbo continued by outlining that the Nordic countries use different strategies in order to overcome the crisis. Sweden uses the “slow down strategy”: mild measures were taken to slow the spread of the epidemic to avoid a high peak and to reach herd immunity. As a consequence, the Swedish government hopes that most of the people will undergo an infection over the course of a year. Nevertheless, Norway faced their challenges and decided, due to the lack of knowledge about the virus, to take lockdown-actions like closing schools and shops. On 12th May, Norway slowly started to reopen their society in certain sectors, for example, hairdressers opened their saloons again. However, travelling restrictions still apply as well as the ban of gatherings of more than 50 people. Jana Midelfart closed the speech by focusing on future challenges as a result of this crisis. Will there be a permanent social change? How can we cope with the upcoming economical recession? Questions to be answered - but answering them could offer opportunities for improvement, like fostering local production or deeper European collaboration? Maybe the pandemic is also a catalyst for digital transformation? In conclusion, the Norwegian strategy seems to have been successful!

Florin Nechita, lecturer at the UniTBv in Romania, teacher for marketing and brand management, gave a detailed speech on brand communication during the COVID-19 crisis. He enumerates aspects that are influenced by the crisis like economy, brands and people as consumers.  The consumer habits changed enormously since the beginning of the crisis. People became more linked to products and media became more important; the internet consumption increased, as well as the number of online shopping . People`s reaction and behaviour of consumption depends on how high their degree of concern is. Despite the economy, changes like the employee-employer relationship or the attitudes in the health care system take place. Furthermore, he explained some important rules of brand communication: Health must always come first, social listening is important to implement the aspects people focus on right now, and fear is not a communication ingredient. Authentic communications and collaboration between brands is an important lesson, thaught by this crisis. He closed his speech by showing a few examples of brand communication from Apple, Google, McDonalds or Burgerking. He pointed out, that for some brands there is a discrepancy between acting and communicating! He requested to keep in mind, that acting is more important than just communicating without taking action!

We finished our first day with Tor Slettebø, lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the VID Specialized University. He gave us an insight into the Child Welfare Services in Norway. He started with some background information on how welfare services for children are organized, based on feedback from some local authorities. Regarding the statistics, 60% of the vulnerable children who receive assistance from Child Welfare Services live at home and 40% of the assistance is given for out-of-home care. After he shortly outlined the general situation with regard to the corona crisis, he explained the situation of vulnerable children. Children who have disabilities, living in families with addiction and violence problems or those who have a constant low income. They depend more on services than others families do. During the lockdown, services like nurseries are closed which is problematic since they usually prevent negative developments amongst children. Still, Child Welfare Services try to offer the same services as usual but in a different way. He ended his speech by emphasising the challenges in the Child Welfare Services, for example that services received very few guidelines by the local authorities. However, he also mentioned unanticipated advantages, for example that meeting people digitally is less time consuming and with this digital communication new ways of meetings are being developed.

DAY 2 – Friday, 15th of May

On our second day, we started with João Silva, lecturer of health care at ISAVE – Higher Institute of Health in Portugal. He started his speech by explaining the role of the ISAVE in the 3IN Alliance. Afterwards he gave an overview of the timeline events in Portugal beginning at the point when COVID-19 started to spread. The evolution was relatively smooth due to keypoints like the relatively late onset of the disease which allowed a better planning of strategies. He continued by focusing on the main measures adopted in the education sector, for example closing all schools and universities or the launch of a website with teaching and learning resources to prepare distance learning. He elaborated on the main difficulties, actions and future goals of ISAVE and EPATV. The university had its main difficulties with the implementation of an online platform and the use of Moodle, an E-Learning platform, which was not widespread within the country. However, they set themselves future goals to achieve as a response to the crisis, including the implementation of reliable and coherent evaluation or the safe reopening of the ISAVE’s facilities. He closed his speech by saying that this pandemic led us here so we could listen to each others’s concerns, fears, dreams and hopes, in a feeling of mutual sharing and helping.

Olli Vesterinen, principal lecturer of Blended Learning and Digital Pedagogy at the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (DIAK) in Finnland, continued the online lecture by focussing on what role Distance Learning played in the past and how important it became during the COVID-19 crisis. In the last two months, Finland was under lockdown, Distance Learning solved the dilemmas of the universities. The main elements of Distance Learning include physical separation of teachers and students during instruction and the use of various technologies to facilitate student-teacher and student-student communication. He concluded that, so far, the gap between Higher Education Pedagogy and Distance Learning has diminished. He also explained that one main difference between Blended Learning and Online Learning is the number of students who take part in the session. Furthermore, Blended Learning is usually a mix of physical learning settings and online learning, while Online Learning is exclusively digital. Additionally, he shared some experiences from DIAK during the time of COVID-19, like the newly developed opportunity for teachers to have training sessions. He concluded his very comprehensive speech with a quote, saying that technological inventions increase learning – but only if they enhance the teacher-learner relationship.

Our third speaker, Daniel Verba, Sociologist of the University of Paris North (USPN) in France revealed the social inequalities during the health crisis and the time of lockdown. He based his speech on two main aspects: showing the effect of the health crisis and the lockdown on the most vulnerable populations as well as the effects of lockdown on social work practices. Firstly, he pointed out the strong correlations between poverty, the level of education and information. In doing so, he set up the hypothesis that the health crisis of COVID-19 affected the working class harder than others. As a second hypothesis, he said that the lockdown of entire France will cause health, social and economic damage that is more serious than the disease itself. Therefore, he emphasized the exposure to the virus in certain job sectors which are mainly the stokers of our societies, as well as the large rate of unemployment as a consequence of this health crisis. Thirdly, he stressed that this health crisis is pushing social workers to change their practices. They need to develop new digital methods and find ways of home visiting services from a distance. As a conclusion, he said that if lockdown measures try to protect the oldest and most privileged ones, they expose the most vulnerable to contamination. This health crisis represents a big challenge for all European countries.

Bjørn Hallstein, anthropologist and sociologist of religion at the VID Specialized University in Norway, explained the role of religious organisations during the corona crisis and the effect on immigrants. In the beginning, he showed a table with different infection rates according to different birth countries. For example, immigrants from Somalia are more infected than the Norwegian population. A discussion came up in the media about explanations for this study result. Possible explanations were, for example, a larger share of immigrant work in manual and service jobs in which workers are more exposed to the virus, or the lack of information in language and media accessibility. As a reaction to this discussion, six civil society organisations, like the Red Cross and some of them faith-based, where granted public funding to reach out to the immigrant population in order to provide information about the virus and its consequences. As he continued, he focused on the Islamic Council of Norway and its response. They have published guidelines for mosques to protect themselves from the virus. They continued by launching online videos in different languages addressed to Norwegian muslims which encouraged listeners to obey the recommendations of the public authorities. In conclusion, the Islamic Council of Norway reacted early and its response to the crisis provided an alternative model of religious organisations’ social role. Additionally, this crisis reflects the different ideals of religion that coexist in Norway.

In the ninth and last speech, Achim Förster, lawyer and lecturer of law at FHWS, introduced the audience to the legal aspects of COVID-19. He started by comparing the legal situation of COVID-19 with the situation back on September 11th 2001, where the rise of international terrorism was the number one topic in society but also in legal contexts. At that time, societies needed to balance surveillance and freedom rights in order to prevent terrorism, while now we balance these factors for our health protection. In order to explain this more in depth, Achim Förster gave us a short overview about the mechanics of basic rights and the hierarchy of law in Germany. Basic laws have supremacy over all the other laws. However, there are some constellations where the constitution is allowed to limit some of the Fundamental Rights to protect the Fundamental Right of another person. Thus, it is possible to impose restrictions if it is for fostering public health. However, looking into the future, it must be ensured that courts can react quciker, as the rule of law demands swift decisions. He closed his speech by stating the motto “There`s no one-size-fits-all!”, which fits the whole conference perfectly: we saw that even though we all face similar challenges, the responses  must be contextualised.