The University Centre in Svalbard is planning to resume classes in January despite a resurgence in COVID-19 cases across Europe and elsewhere, but only semester-long classes will be offered due to complications presented by quarantine requirements for arriving students and precautionary requirements during field work, the university announced in a press release Tuesday.
UNIS is “well on its way” to admitting students for the semester that runs from Jan. 18 through May, which is offering a full range of bachelor’s courses and two master’s courses in physics. Admissions are limited to students who applied by the usual Oct. 15 deadline.
Also, students in the Arctic Nature Guide program at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway will be able to participate in courses, meaning about 120 students are expected to attend during the semester.
But the shorter, more intensive master’s and PhD courses that last five to seven weeks remain on hold due to the pandemic.
“The reasons are that teaching and fieldwork will be more demanding than normal in relation to current infection prevention rules,” the release notes, adding “it is very demanding to organize quarantine stays for students and adjunct professors just spending five to seven weeks in Svalbard, and it leaves uncertainty and vulnerability associated with quarantine, outbreaks and resulting changes in teaching/fieldwork schedules that will not be manageable within the short time frame of such courses.”
The extra precautions include contingency plans if instructors or others are infected with or suspected of having the virus.
“If employees are quarantined, each scientific department will have teaching resources available that can take over the teaching, so that the students do not have their teaching or fieldwork postponed or cancelled,” UNIS Director Jøran Moen said. “Thus, we will be less vulnerable in the event of an outbreak of infection.”
More than 700 students have enrolled in classes during the year recently, although many are for a single semester or specialized programs such as the guide training.
“The number varies throughout the semester, as most of the shorter master/PhD courses would start from February on, with a peak in March/April,” Eva Therese Jensen, communications director at UNIS, stated in an online interview. “So on average in a normal spring semester there would have been about 300 students.”
The pandemic and closure is not affecting university staffing, Jensen noted.
“It is mainly our adjuncts who run the shorter courses and, although their courses are cancelled, they still have their 20 percent position at UNIS,” she wrote. “Their efforts are now geared into further developing our courses and educational quality.”
Students will be required to follow all national and local regulations related to the pandemic, including a 10-day quarantine at a quarantine hotel on the mainland for many arriving international students. UNIS will reimburse the hotel costs for these students, according to the release.