Wondering what you can learn from the Italian higher education institutions who have been dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and a national quarantine? Read our exclusive interview.
As more and more universities dramatically change their operations and strategies due to the coronavirus, it’s crucial that the higher education sector comes together to collaborate and share ideas.
Dr. Eugenio Gaudio is a medical researcher, physician, and Rector of the University of Rome Sapienza, the largest university in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, with more than 147,000 enrolled, in-person students.
QS recently spoke to Dr. Gaudio to understand how the University of Rome Sapienza is responding to the coronavirus crisis and to get his take on the global health emergency.
As a medical researcher and physician, what are your opinions about the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the higher education sector?
As a physician, I think that this is a mainly quantitative emergency due to the speed of propagation of the infection. As such, the only way to overcome the emergency is to stay at home in order to reduce the infection as much as possible.
As a researcher, I’m working on the enhancement of alternative teaching tools and methods that could be used by our students even when this emergency has passed, enriching the teaching offer of the university.
Furthermore, the exchange of clinical data (a consolidated reality in our teaching hospitals) has proven to be crucial and will be even more encouraged in the future.
In this area, our medical doctors, nurses, resident physicians, epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, scientists, and researchers are making a fundamental and enormous contribution.
What was the initial response that the University of Rome Sapienza took to the coronavirus? And how has that response changed over time as the situation has escalated?
Our university has been on the forefront of the health crisis due to its central location in the country and because it’s one of the largest European universities by student enrollment and structures.
Sapienza made itself available to civil society. Our Chinese language students acted as language mediators with the first hospitalized tourists, when the pandemic scenario we’re going through was not yet conceivable.
The university governance introduced the first measures against the COVID-19 immediately after the first state decree-laws: the suspension of academic activities, the organization of smart working tasks for non-essential administrative staff in the last week, and the increase of digital teaching as much as possible. Professors, students, and support staff are coping very well with the situation considering that we are living in a very difficult time.
With Italy imposing a national quarantine, how has your university consistently communicated with students throughout this period and what are your ongoing plans for communication?
Sapienza has continuously communicated with its students. The university updates its website and social networks, monitoring the institutional news related to the spread of the virus and the measures to counter its effects.
We have also adopted more direct communication policies with our most affected students, especially those in transit from abroad (i.e. Erasmus exchange students) and those departing from Rome. Sapienza has also worked in conjunction with the Italian Universities Rectors’ Conference (CRUI) to find alternative transportation solutions for those stranded abroad.
What processes and alternative learning options have you implemented as a result of the quarantine?
At the moment, all teaching activities are being delivered online. We have implemented and strengthened several technical options to connect students and faculties, including Google Meet, Moodle, Classroom, and YouTube dedicated channels.
Also, the graduation theses and ceremonies are conducted online in order to continue, even now, to provide the best possible didactic services to the students.
What mental health and emotional support are you offering to students?
The university has created a task force of experts since the initial breakthrough, including health personnel, prevention experts, and specific tutoring on the COVID-19 health crisis.
At this moment, the lines of communication are working well. Students are well connected with us and the main recommendations regarding keeping a safe distance are applied.
Sapienza also enhances the psychological support services dedicated to students, with particular attention to those who are currently abroad, and incoming guests in our university at the moment.
The Psychological Counseling Center, which refers to the Department of Clinical and Dynamic Psychology, is operating online.
We also have a dedicated service offered by the Department of Psychology, the Noibene. This service offers online and blended modules accessible by students wherever they are, for an individual or group path to promote well-being and a module dedicated to psychological first aid.
How do you think universities, and the higher education sector, can best respond to the coronavirus outbreak?
Universities are at the center of the health crisis: specific scientific research has started in our laboratories since the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Italy. The aims of the research are focused on the causes, the spread, and the mitigation of the crisis.
As part of the scientific studies, there are biological, medical, and pharmaceutical ones, but the pandemic’s global repercussions are currently studied by educationalists, sociologists, psychologists, engineers, and economists to equip our society with better options the next time around.
To learn more about the higher education sector’s response to the coronavirus, please visit the QS COVID-19 Resources Hub.