The Slovenia Times

New, Covid-dominated academic year starting for over 60,000 students

Science & Education

Ljubljana - Students are returning to faculties for in-person lectures as the new academic year starts on 1 October against the backdrop of strict anti-coronavirus measures. While professors are happy to see students back in lecture halls, they are utterly unhappy with having to wear face masks while teaching.

Under the national guidelines, drafted by education and health authorities, the winter term will be held at faculties if all safety recommendations can be observed.

The guidelines also recommend a "hybrid model" - a mix of live and distance learning, while distance learning is recommended only for exceptional cases.

However, just a few days after the guidelines were adopted, the government has ordered compulsory face mask wearing in all indoor public places.

The new rule also applies to students and teachers regardless of whether they keep the recommended safety distance of 1.5 metres.

"Professors are outraged, they are convinced they cannot teach for several hours with a face mask," University of Ljubljana Chancellor Igor Papič has told the STA.

He recalled the original guidelines under which students could take the mask off in lecture halls if they kept a safe distance, so he believes this will affect the quality of the teaching process.

Universities have brought the issue to the attention of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, urging it to allow plexiglas barriers instead of masks.

But Minister Simona Kustec, although noting very different circumstances from previous years, is convinced students will get quality teaching.

"Foremost, we have to bear in mind the care for the health of students and of all staff in higher education," she was quoted in her ministry's release.

Until yesterday, some 60,600 students enrolled, of whom 13,400 freshers, but the exact number of students in this academic year will be known in mid-November.

The three public and three smaller private universities as well as over 40 mostly private higher education establishments with a concession have made over 46,400 posts available for first-year regular students (tuition fee is paid from public funds) and paying students.

The bulk of new posts - over 9,000 - were available at the University of Ljubljana, the country's largest and oldest, which in 2019 had a total of over 37,000 students.

The coronavirus situation will also affect this year's generation of freshers, who will be left without welcome parties traditionally organised by the universities and student organisations at the start of the academic year.

Still, faculties will welcome them at special receptions on the premises, while they will also receive key information at lectures in the first week of studies.

The pandemic has also slashed Erasmus+ student exchange programmes, as many students are cancelling or postponing their studies abroad to the summer term or the next academic year.

Slovenia's Centre for Mobility and European Educational and Training Programmes (CMEPIUS) expects the figure to halve.

The figures for the winter term are even worse - while almost 1,140 students opted for student exchange the previous winter term, the figure plummeted to 396 now.

Some have nevertheless decided on distance student exchange but since they will stay in Slovenia they will not be entitled to CMEPIUS funding.

An aggravating circumstance is definitely the prospect of quarantine: students are not allowed to quarantine at student dormitories.

Some Slovenian institutions as well as their partner institutions abroad have thus decided to cancel student exchanges for the winter semester altogether.

The Ljubljana University told the STA it expects some 600 foreign students at present, considerably below the around 2,100 figure from recent years.


More from Science & Education