Since the beginning of March, the lives of students have turned upside down: coronavirus has reached our University and with-it Hungary as well. During this time following general guidelines and appropriate safety measures will receive particular emphasis. We have talked about this and the current situation with Tamás Hegedüs, the president of the Student Union (SU).
Szinapszis: The last two weeks and the upcoming couple of days were and are going to be rather hectic: first a rector’s break, e-learning then another rector’s break (and e-learning). The university and of course the students have gone through a lot, but first let’s talk about the coronavirus and the reaction of the University!
Tamás Hegedüs: I remember when at the beginning of March my phone rang and the Rector was on the other end of the line. He called to inform me that there was a student infected with coronavirus amongst the citizens of our University. At that time, I may have thought that the spread of the virus in Hungary could be contained before it could have reached a community-level outbreak. Naturally we have taken all the necessary steps to stop the spread of the virus, such as cancelling the Semmelweis Carnival, the Medic Cup and the Spring Festival. After these measures, a transparent communication channel has been established by the Rector’s office to communicate with professors and students. Safety measures have been changing on a daily basis, that is how we have gone from disinfecting the dormitories to the Government Decree of March 11th. According to this, the attendance of university institutions has been suspended, therefore our university has suspended all on-site classes as well.
Sz.: E-learning came up as an alternative way of education back when, in last year’s student survey, the class attendance sheets received negative feedback – at that time the Rector’s office was open to the suggestion, and the development of a system began…
T.H.: Preparations for the introduction of e-learning begun much sooner than at any other Hungarian university. As soon as the first student was diagnosed with coronavirus, the University’s administration, in collaboration with the SU, began the preparations for a possible upcoming crisis, taking the crisis and emergency response models used at Harvard and Heidelberg University as examples.
Within the SU, an e-learning working group has been established, the task of which is to maintain close contact with the professors of the University (online, of course). During the spring break, the other task of the group was to test the e-learning system. In my opinion, nowhere else did online education start as smoothly as it did at our University. We must remember this, since behind every visible step forward there are professors and students who spent countless hours on making them happen.
Sz.: Can those who want to be of service to others during these times help in any way?
T.H.: Volunteering during a pandemic is very important. Nothing demonstrates this better than the fact that the SU has started numerous social responsibility projects in connection with health care. I would like to mention the blood donation campaign in particular, thanks to which more than 500 Semmelweis Citizens have given blood already. I would also like to mention that members of the SU are the ones protecting the clinic’s staff from potentially infectious visitors and outpatients at the restricted entry systems set up at hospitals. It is important to mention that everyone should join voluntary efforts in accordance with their abilities and in compliance with their studies, as attendance on practical classes and seminars is still mandatory through Zoom.
Sz.: How can foreign students or students living in one of the University dormitories help?
T.H.: Basically, even in connection with the dormitory situation, the actions taken by the leaders of the University have been exemplary in the country. Several students who had already been volunteering prior to the pandemic benefited from Rectoral equity procedures. After further consultations with the Rector, it has been made possible for students who wish to volunteer to return to their dorm rooms. Students whose housing cannot be resolved can stay in vacant rooms. At this point, the re-evaluation of our budget was perhaps the most important task, therefore the housing fee has been taken over by the SU for these students.
Sz.: As the president of the Student Union, what suggestions would you give to the students reading this article?
T.H.: What I would like to emphasise is to comply with the general guidelines and I would like to ask everyone who can to stay home. In case you have to leave your home, always follow the following precautions: wear a mask and keep physical contact with others to a minimum. I also find it important to emphasize that this is not the time for large trips, therefore I would like to ask everyone to avoid travelling even within the country. If we comply with these rules then we can make up for our missed trips in early summer.
Sz.: Many people are frustrated by the uncertainty of the schedule of the upcoming period. What would you suggest they do in these days?
T.H.: I would like to ask everyone to be patient – most decisions are not the responsibility of the SU or of the leaders of the University, but are in the hands of the Operational Group set up by the Government. They are the ones taking the necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus, measures we are obliged to comply with.
I can assure all of you, that in every situation, Semmelweis University always brings out what’s in the best interest of students – always has and always will.