This effort was made in close collaboration with the representatives of the Centre Régional des Œuvres Universitaires et Sociales (CROUS) (a regional organization providing student bursaries and accomodations), who run an essential part of student life, including the management of student residences. However, as the CROUS lacks sufficient management personnel, the presence of university staff has become essential. After all, who better than teachers can know who attends their classes and who does not!
The teachers’ intense commitment to support all their students, to the point of reaching and rescuing the "distressed ones" individually, was emphasized by all university presidents. All universities made available their social assistance budgets for helping students in precarious situations.
Difficulties in funding complementary pedagogical activities have raised the issue of internships, apprenticeships or semesters abroad. Most of these activities were disrupted by the health crisis, the lock-down and the weakening economy. However, students were able to attend their courses normally during part of the semester. Without too much difficulty, it was also possible to develop new evaluation strategies and to pursue ongoing projects from home. At an international level, the universities effectively managed to repatriate their students or to assist remotely those who had chosen to stay abroad. Overall, these activities will be difficult to promote and support in the future.
The issue of examinations remains central. At UPPA, as in the other three universities, they decided to set up all possible forms of continuous assessment. This still implies that several examinations must be held online. The universities do not consider this to be a major problem, as the first half of the second semester took place normally. The objective of pedagogical continuity only concerns the second half of this semester. There have been many online discussions and debates around this issue, especially regarding the proposal put forward by the UNEF (the National Union of Students of France) to give every student a passing 10/20 grade. However, the vast majority of professors and students are very much opposed to it, wishing to protect the value of their degrees at all costs.
Daunting challenges for research activities
Confinement might be beneficial for humanities and social sciences, if it doesn’t last for too long. But it has more urgent impacts on laboratory activities, especially life sciences and the daily monitoring of experiments.
On the one hand, we are already witnessing an increase in the number of publications. Many researchers are writing and publishing research that they had formerly started, and which they would have otherwise let mature slowly. In addition to this, the Covid-19 crisis can lead to new lines of research regarding major societal issues that could be particularly fertile. Moreover, even though the labs are closed, ongoing experiments are still, when possible, monitored and completed.
However, and more critically, the University of Bordeaux indicates that the consequences on research are substantial. This is particularly true for life sciences, due to the cancellation of ongoing experiments and to the shifting of several works and resources towards the fight against Covid-19. The university says that it is now more than 6 months behind schedule in its ordinary research activities.
All universities stress the fact that their scientific community has made the fight against Covid-19 their priority. All laboratories are trying to support nearby hospitals. From this point of view, it must be noted that university communities have played an important, if not central, role in the way the country has dealt with the Covid-19 crisis. Universities are major agents in terms of territorial decentralization, and their presidents are asking that this be taken into account when the time comes to take stock of the situation.
How these institutions regained a sense of action and found solutions to unprecedented difficulties
For staff members and management, the switchover to remote working was easily carried out up to 80%. There has been an increase in work efficiency, at least in the first few weeks. This applies to most departments. The financial and human resources directorates still operate at full capacity. The implementation of short-time working and parental leave has been limited. Nevertheless, there is fear around the issue of postponing holidays to the beginning of next term, which would seriously disrupt work organization for all.