EURASHE in response to COVID-19 decided to interview a few of its members to better understand how is the situation in their respective country, what challenges faces their institution or the sector and how the current health crisis could affect professional higher education in the future.
The hospitality sector is one of the most affected by the authority’s measures to prevent the Coronavirus outbreak. Last week we sat down and had an online chat with the Dean of the Hotelschool The Hague in the Netherlands, Mr Arend Hardorff to understand how their school and the sector is doing today.
1. What measures have been taken in the Netherlands in relation to COVID-19?
In the Netherlands, we are under the so-called ‘intelligent’ lockdown. It means that shops are open (not only grocery shops), but people are asked to restrict themselves, not to group with more than three people and no events can take place. People are allowed to go to work but are advised to work from home. Myself and the Hotelschool The Hague staff and students are working from home from already four weeks.
2. The spread of the COVID–19 and the implemented measures of social distancing affected single citizens and families. For the communities like a university, it’s a particularly challenging measure as institutions tend to gather and unite people rather than keep them apart. What is the general mood in your university at the moment?
If we look to our community of students and staff, there are people who are directly affected by the virus – they were sick but recovering or have family members who got sick. Luckily, nobody died but there is a general feeling that the virus is really close to us.
Another issue is a re-orientation of our activities – switching to distance learning. For a hospitality school, it’s all about human interaction and, of course, training students the right skills to work in this sector, meaning rightly assess people, react to situations. In that sense, a lot could go online but it’s never the same experience when students in our hotel and restaurants have their guests and can interact with them. In some extent, you can simulate these type of situations but never entirely.
3. Let’s talk about your switch to remote studies. What type of online learning you are using? How are you planning to hold students’ assessment?
Four weeks ago we had hardly anything online, our digital learning environment served only to complement physical classrooms. After the Government’s decision, we were in the 6th week of the third block of our academic year and we had 2 more weeks of teaching left that had to be converted into online. So, the School was closed in the very last weeks before students had to hand in assignments and learn for the exams.
Since all the universities in the Netherlands took a decision themselves and decided to stay closed until 1 June, we know that also the last block of our studies, starting 28 April will also be largely online.
When it comes to the assignments, oral exams and presentations take places online, even the graduation exams. What we did with sit-down exams that are normally held in campus, was to ask course teams to develop alternatives to them. Of course, every alternative takes more time than a sit-down exam but we are trying to ensure more time for students to take them and also more time to teachers to grade them.
4. Part of your studies is happening in the workplace. It is field-specific, for hospitality this meant substantial close down and decline. How are you dealing with that – postponing, cancelling the placements?
In some sense we were lucky because the February intake going on placement from February to July is usually smaller than the August intake. This semester we had 185 students going on placements, 160 out of them were cancelled for various reasons-some hotels closed due to a small number or no guests, other students had to take a quick decision because their home countries’ borders were about to close and the question was can whether they can go to stay with their families.
From our side what we are trying to do in this situation is to make sure that everyone can finish their placements within the given period, replacing them with written assignments or other online activities.
5. How did this health crisis affect your students and staff?
From the student’s point of view, we are lucky because everyone here owns a laptop, but slow or interrupted internet connection sometimes is a problem, especially connecting on various online communications platforms in big groups or doing online assessments. In order to help our students, we created more exams opportunities. Another issue is a stress factor-some students’ families are hit by Coronavirus and they are not able to handle the stress so we ask our teachers to be more flexible-our goal is to encourage students to keep on studying.
The situation is also stressful for the staff members, especially the ones who have children or have to share a small apartment and are also expected to teach at the same time. Some of my colleagues feel emotional and physical stress, so we encourage them to put education-to students first and let other things go. We also try to make them understand that we do not expect them to work 8 hours per day efficiently, but rather asking to concentrate on our priority-giving online classes.
6. Do you think the current situation will affect the length of an academic year? Are you planning to postpone the start of the newcomers?
The biggest goal of the universities in the Netherlands is to prevent any delay in studies, so we have to provide an alternative that gives an opportunity to keep on studying and graduate on time. It is also related to the financial reason, the longer you study, the more debts you build up.
What we also feel that we are a part of the whole education pipeline: i.e. secondary schools’ students finish and want to go to higher education institutions, the same as for bachelor students who want to get their Master degree. Ourselves, we expect to be open in August. Currently, we are holding online selection procedures, organising online recruitment days and are expecting to welcome new students on time.
7. Have you been in contact with your partners-companies and hotels? What is their view of the situation?
Except for Italy, all other EU countries are in a similar part of the curve at the moment and most of the hotels were closed 3-4 weeks ago. We keep contact with our partners but at the same time, we understand that they deal with major challenges at the moment. Hospitality industry has been hit harder than education, so in this sense, we are in a more comfortable situation than the companies we educate for.
8. How, in your opinion, the COVID–19 will affect the hospitality sector in general? Do you see it as an opportunity or rather a challenge which could cause a long term lasting damage?
We have already seen a lot of digitalization happening in the hotels before: automatic check-in, booking procedures and similar repetitive activities. This model was very often used as a solution for cheaper hotels to cut off staff costs. I think it will accelerate even further after this crisis too: not meeting staff in the hotel might mean not only lower costs but also hygienic, safe and secure environment. In that sense, I could see a change and the way how it will be presented.
9. Has there been any engagement of the school, students in assisting the community in tackling a pandemic? Do you have any examples?
In a broader sense, our students can go and work for example in one of the biggest hospital’s in Amsterdam Call center where they can provide people with information on the phone and this could be an alternative of their placement if they wish to do so, or take any other initiative in their community if it corresponds to their learning objectives. But we also see, that our students take initiatives to do something extra-curricular, so as an institution we are happy to provide them with the platform for communications and serve as a knowledge center.
I.e. one our student is doing research on which way the hospitality sector in Spain is helping out the hospitals to outsource a part of the activities which should normally take place in the hospitals and move them into the hotels, so that the hospitals can create more space for the intensive care patients.
10. How will COVID-19 affect professional higher education sector, in your opinion? Do you think our sector will need to reconsider its modus operandi after the crisis?
On one hand, we sense how our students appreciate an opportunity to be on the campus-the studying starts in the classroom but community gatherings, building relations and having a social life continues beyond it.
But in some part of the studies, we can see that digital means are more effective i.e. if I teach a class of 60 students, for some of them I will be too fast, for others-too slow. So we see that students, as well as the staff, appreciate the extra features of digital learning. What we expect is that once we are back, we will use more often a hybrid learning model. i.e. we have students who have certain studying disabilities such as dyscalculia or dyslexia and physically there are limits of what you can cater to the individual needs, while if you have online materials available is much easier to create a sort of the menu in a combination of what can be physically available and what you can do digitally.
11. Would you like to add something?
I’ve worked at the Hotelschool The Hague for more than 1,5 years and I really enjoy it, and it is such a strange feeling that I cannot experience now everything what our school is about-nice smells coming from our restaurants, having a friendly chat at the reception, interacting with staff and students. At the same time, I see a lot of positivity and appreciation towards each other and a lot of people feel closer to each other than they normally are.