The global coronavirus emergency may have us remembering and missing the wisdom of our elders who would tell us that health comes first, and that as long as we were healthy, everything would be fine. This pandemic is straining our health system, our economy and, above all, our sense of normality. We are going back to our first priority, the health and well-being of those closest to us, in a world turned upside down. In times like these, which can feel like days gone by or a present we never dreamed of, as President of the UOC I want to express solidarity and compassion, both personally and on behalf of our institution, especially to those of you mourning loved ones.
Aware of the seriousness of the situation, we have taken actions to ensure the UOC followed the recommendations of the authorities from the very first moment. In a recent message I gave details of the series of measures we adopted, which boil down to two key goals: to protect the health of all staff and to help students continue their learning. Being a distanceless university has helped us adapt to this exceptional situation and keep our campus, teaching and research going. Nevertheless, rather than our technological prowess, it has been the professionalism of the staff in our faculties, research centres and administrative departments that has made the difference. I offer my sincerest praise to all of these people – teachers and professors, researchers, administrative staff and everyone else who works with the UOC. But this tribute should also extend to our students, whose efforts, commitment and adaptability have enabled them to combine their academic schedules with highly challenging personal and work-related circumstances, and furthermore to our alumni community, from which individual and group initiatives have arisen to offer support.
Last week, faced with an extension of the lockdown period and uncertainties surrounding the academic calendar, our Executive Board approved yet another set of measures. These focus on our academic regulations, enabling all continuous and final assessment tests to be conducted online and the temporary suspension of on-site internships, to be replaced wherever possible by internships that involve e-working or other online formats. There are also extraordinary measures offering flexibility in terms of payments and changes to enrolments.
At the same time, we have wanted to put our expertise to good use in the community. In one initiative we have worked with the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED), and in collaboration with Spain's Ministry of Universities and the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE), to produce a web portal with online learning resources for teachers, students and society in general. In another, launched today with contributions from all across the UOC, we have a new site on emergency remote teaching. Aimed at people in the education sector, this dynamic and developing resource combines the knowledge of our teaching staff to offer ways to address specific, urgent problems; the content includes free webinars, MOOCs, short training modules and various other activities and materials. Lastly, UOC Corporate has designed a programme on how to lead teams whose members are e-working from diverse locations, training that is available freely to collaborating companies.
These are exceptional initiatives for unprecedented times, but they are the continuation of a path we were already on, our commitment to transforming society through learning and knowledge.
As we mark our twenty-fifth anniversary, the UOC aims to continue in its role as a vector for change and progress, and to continue to play a part in transforming and connecting people, societies and ideas. When the University came into being during the recession of the mid-nineties, we managed to set ourselves apart as the world's first online university. A quarter of a century later, we still want to be 'first', but perhaps not so much as pioneers, rather by leading the field.
Now is not the time for celebrations, but our current troubles must not blind our sense of perspective. On 6 April 1995, with unanimous agreement from all political parties, the Catalan Parliament passed a law to create the UOC. And right from the start our University has played a leading role in profound changes that have taken place in education and training, work and research, knowledge and life in general. To remain true to our founding spirit and original vocation to public service and societal impact, we must continue to lead the way in driving the digital transformation of our society, in the evolution of our ways of learning, in the development of new talents and, above all, in strengthening the responsible, critical spirit of people in our society – in Catalonia, Spain and worldwide.
The American historian Howard Zinn told us that being positive in times of difficulty such as the present has less to do with ingenuity and more to do with the essence of our humanity. Our past includes failures and violence, but also compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness, and if we had to choose, we would surely rather associate ourselves with the latter traits. “And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” In keeping with this, I would like to express thanks for the individual efforts and commitment being displayed by professionals in the health system, care provision, public safety and emergency services, and to all those who are working day in day out – from those in production, logistics and small retailers to all those caring for others – to ensure the rest of us are fed, healthy, and able to respect the lockdown and stay at home.
Right now our duty is to focus on the urgent task of defeating the pandemic and mitigating its effects. Nevertheless, however difficult this might seem at present – and it will be difficult –, to paraphrase the author Milena Busquets, ‘this too shall pass’. And then we are going to need strong institutions, updated projects and outlooks that can focus on the latest challenges society faces, in our economy, sustainability, employment or values. Then will be the time to look back, to commemorate this first quarter of a century at the UOC and, above all, to share our thoughts on where we are going in the coming twenty-five years.
For now, let's all take good care of ourselves!
Josep A. Planell
President of the UOC