Since March 7, HSE University has taken measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus: all international business trips have been canceled, employees and students who have returned from countries with large outbreaks are required to self-quarantine, and anyone entering campus must undergo temperature screening. Below, HSE University Life summarizes the ways in which the pandemic has already affected life at HSE.
‘Hello, may I take your temperature?’ At the entrance to the educational complex on Pokrovsky Boulevard, a polite employee of Building and Facilities Maintenance with an infrared thermometer is on duty. ‘Please remove you scarf.’ (The thermometer scans the neck.) ‘Thank you. You’re good to go. Have a nice day.’ Thank goodness—no fever. You can go to work. Every working day of HSE employees and students now begins with this procedure.
‘Officially, the rule states to check every twentieth person, but we go beyond that and check much more people,’ says Vice-Rector Vladimir Samoilenko.
Students and staff with a fever are asked to return home and go to a medical facility. In 3 days, 5 people with a fever were found this way. They all went to the doctor, and they were not found to be infected with the coronavirus.
For the time being, two entrances to the Pokrovsky campus location have been closed: Entrance 1 (main entrance) and Entrance 4 (Cultural Centre). Now you can get into the building only through Entrances 2 and 3.
Online learning, which is always a big discussion topic at HSE, has suddenly become a reality due to the pandemic. Employees and students who have returned from countries with large outbreaks are required to self-isolate at home. Currently, across all of HSE University’s campuses, there are 189 employees and students in home quarantine.
According to Vladimir Samoilenko, students who have come from other cities and are living in campus dormitories are also in self-isolation. Immediately upon returning, they were tested for the coronavirus (their results came back negative), and now their temperatures are taken twice a day.
106 students of HSE’s Moscow campus will have to study remotely for two weeks. One of them, a 4th year student in Sociology, Arina Berseneva, returned from the United States at the beginning of the week. She said that her professors contacted her and offered alternative ways of participating in her seminars and taking any tests she will have to miss.
‘For me, continuing my studies online is not quite equivalent to going to class as usual, insofar as, for example, having an oral interview or writing a review of English-language articles is much more difficult than attending seminar and taking a test,’ she says. ‘But I hope that it will be possible to join the classes online so that I can receive participation credit, albeit in a remote format.’
Laura Bulatova, a 2nd year student in Media Communications, is also in self-isolation. ‘Now it’s March, the time when there are a lot of deadlines and independent and evaluative assignments, so, of course, solving all these issues remotely is quite problematic,’ she says. ‘Of course, we have a lot of wonderful teachers who really work with us and try to ensure that quarantine does not affect our studies, but there are also those who do not always quickly respond to emails. I understand they have heavy workloads, but at the same time, I don’t want it to affect my rating.’
Now IT personnel are faced with the task of helping teachers and students transition to online learning in a manner that is as convenient as possible, says Alexander Zimovets, Head of the Office for Digitalization of Education. Teachers can already conduct lectures remotely, and for this, various external services are used, which are issued upon request.
‘We are working with the degree programmes to determine the necessary set of services that students and teachers will need to provide, as well as understand all the technical aspects to ensure smooth operation,’ he explains.
To ensure that the quality of education is not negatively impacted, both solutions that have already been successfully implemented at HSE as well as external services will be used. ‘We plan to be as flexible as possible in approaching the transition to online learning and provide several channels for delivering information,’ said Alexander Zimovets.
Employees who have returned to Russia from trips abroad after March 7th are in home quarantine. For the quarantine period, they may take sick leave, take paid vacation, or work remotely. Currently, 29 administrative staff and faculty members are in home quarantine.
HSE Vice-Rector Valery Kasamara is among those who have ended up in home quarantine. She reports that she has had to forego events outside the university, but otherwise, thanks to Skype, she manages to attend workshops.
‘So far I feel that HSE is very well prepared for this kind of situation. I’m either communicating remotely with colleagues who have come to my office, or I’m remotely attending rector meetings that are held at the Durasov House. In both instances, we have all the necessary technical capabilities, so I feel involved in the process. I see the discussion and participate in it,’ says the Vice Rector.
‘I don’t feel like I’ve been thrown overboard,’ she adds. ‘The only thing that’s unpleasant is the lack of human contact.’
Academic Director of the Doctoral School of Political Sciences, Olga Malinova, is working at home after returning from France. ‘Fortunately for me, this week I have no classes, and next week's classes are easy to transfer to an online format. There are a lot of consultations, but I conduct them by mail and telephone,’ she told HSE University Life.
Due to self-isolation, she was unable to attend the latest Academic Council meeting, where postgraduate studies were discussed. ‘I am grateful to my colleagues, who conducted a research seminar for our Doctoral School for me the day before yesterday. It’s good that everything was arranged in advance. The main work this week is related to the accepting and processing admissions applications to the School, which can be done remotely. Next week, however, will be more problematic, because we will be undergoing accreditation. So far, everything is going smoothly,’ Olga added.
The threat of the spread of the coronavirus is also affecting employees who have not recently gone abroad and who can work in the office. Alena Makshanchikova, Project Manager of the Student Development Office, says that she has begun to wash her hands more often and for longer. She has also put antibacterial wipes in her office for colleagues and visitors and regularly uses them to wipe down her desktop and keyboard.
‘Fortunately, my commute doesn’t require me to use the metro, but on the suburban train I use to get home, I am wary of people who are coughing and I try to move somewhere else or just stand,’ she says. ‘I’ve also had come up with different arrangements for colleagues who live with elderly relatives. They no longer attend meetings in the city and participate in discussions remotely.’
All international work-related trips have been cancelled in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. These measures raised many questions among employees. In order to provide succinct information about the situation, HSE University Life published a piece with answers to people’s most frequently asked questions: what to do if you have just returned from vacation, what to do if you have a business trip planned, and more.
Everything Employees Need to Know about HSE’s Precautionary Measures against the Spread of Coronavirus
According to Irina Martusevich, 12 people have contacted them with questions over the last two days. The most common concerns related to attending academic events abroad, getting reimbursed for cancelled business trips, and transitioning to online classes for staff and students with poor health.