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Next academic year: ULB will offer a hybrid curriculum combining a genuine university experience and strict health safety

Published on May 28, 2020 Updated on May 28, 2020

In order to best anticipate the organization of the new academic year, our Academic Council unanimously approved the rectoral team's plan for the 2020-2021 academic year: a combination of adapted on-site classes and distance learning, allowing for a real "student life" and a sharp diminution of the population density on campus, making possible the social distancing and security of the whole university community.

Our priority will obviously remain the health security of all and the pursuit of the fight against the epidemic, in line with the recommendations of the National Security Council. It is indeed essential that all feel safe in all parts of the University. We will capitalize on our multi-campus setting to improve health security.

Last March's emergency shift to digital learning proved successful thanks to the unwavering dedication and commitment of the entire university community. It was, at the time, the only solution, which cannot be expected to continue as such in the longer term, as the timing of the end of the COVID-19 crisis remains uncertain.

This is why we want to work with you and the administrative staff to design an innovative pedagogical strategy that integrates distance learning as but one tool amongst others. Whilst our command of digital teaching has taken a quantum leap forward, it has also shown its limitations. Student-to-student and student-to-teacher physical interactions remain essential for pedagogical purposes and to provide the collective experience of university life.

It is essential to clarify the context in which the first term of 2020-2021 would be held. Not only will this clarification and timely announcement give us the opportunity to best prepare for the new term to come and alleviate the stress induced by these uncertain times.


An innovative pedagogical approach, in an unusual context

At the start of the next academic year, it will, unfortunately, be difficult to imagine a situation similar to what we are used to, that is, for example, gathering hundreds of students in a common auditorium. For obvious health safety reasons, we will have to carry on with (at least some form of) distance learning.

In this context, we have opted for a "blended learning" approach and we will follow the following guidelines:
  • The number of hours of face-to-face theoretical classes will be reduced and part of the teaching will consist of seminars in order to work in small groups. This will require students to carry out some preparatory work;
  • Classes in large auditoriums that require a physical presence, will be scheduled, on a rotating basis, in smaller groups of students. Students will alternate between face-to-face and distance learning, the latter being broadcast simultaneously (and podcast for asynchronous access).
  • Continuous and formative evaluation processes will be encouraged to ensure continuous learning;
  • Teaching activities will, where appropriate, be clustered, taking advantage of synergies between different intra- or inter-university courses, including internationally.

First-time students (BA1 and MA1) will benefit from a special induction week at the University (methodological training seminars, introduction to digital tools, etc.) and a continuous follow-up during the first semester. The aim is to ease their transition into our University.

This is also fully in line with the Cap 2030 Strategic Plan that we have set out to implement:
  • Introduce innovative teaching and evaluation methods and formats that ensure our students play an active part in their own learning
  • Use digital tools to diversify the ways in which knowledge can be accessed and to offer learners individualised curricula
  • To streamline teaching activities, where appropriate, by leveraging synergies between different intra- or inter-university curricula.

ULB has made an exceptional investment of 900,000 euros in order to be able to organise its curricula following this plan and to provide greater flexibility in welcoming its students and will free up support staff for the teaching staff.


An even stronger commitment to tackling inequalities

As part of our role as a University open to all, we will also carry on with our commitment to reduce inequalities and help the most disadvantaged students. For those who do not have the necessary IT equipment for distance learning and are unable to get it, the University will continue to lend the necessary supplies. Assistance may also be provided for Internet access and priority access to study rooms may be given to students in need.

A reorganised on-campus life

Other, non-teaching and research, on-campus activities will only be gradually resuming provided that the safety of all is guaranteed.

For instance, it will be possible to borrow books from our libraries from the comfort of one's home in the most convenient way (click-and-collect at library counters, automatic lending terminals, etc.). Workspaces and direct access to all references will be gradually reopened under strict rules for a limited number of students and staff members.

In addition to the libraries, study rooms will also be reopened with limited seating capacity. Physical distancing measures will have to be respected at all times.

When the recommendations of the National Security Council allow their reopening, the catering services will strictly apply the health rules that will have been laid down.

Finally, if necessary, we will delve into alternative strategies to preserve the associative, cultural and festive atmosphere on our campuses in strict compliance with federal and regional health regulations.