University during crisis: Stories from Barcelona


In the largest auditorium of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Barcelona, ​​freshmen were absorbed in a lecture on biostatistics. They are lucky. Their first year as students will not be at home, but here, with their colleagues.

It was with the study of medicine 520 years ago which gave the start of the beginning of higher education in Barcelona. Today, tradition and innovation are in harmony at this university with 72,000 students. But in the year of Covid, this age-old institution also faces a test.

Dr. Maria Concepcion Amat Mirayes, c of the University of Barcelona: When the pandemic was announced all over the world, we had to stay at home here. Teachers and students had to adapt to the crisis immediately. We needed to be able to inform our community, so we created a special university website dedicated to Covid-19. Employees developed documents to adapt traditional learning to a virtual environment. Guidelines were sent to teachers on assessment in this environment, because that was one of the aspects that worried us the most. Many webinars with trainings on all aspects of teaching were organized.

A year later in the yard of the Faculty of Geography and History almost nothing reminds of the existence of Kovid-19. Since October, students have been studying in full presence in the halls.

Dr. Velislava Simeonova, lecturer at the University of Barcelona: This academic year began with a completely new normality. We returned to the classrooms, started in situ or on-site lectures with restrictive measures, which included wearing a protective mask, ensuring distance between students in the classrooms, and using a disinfectant gel.

Dr. Velislava Simeonova has just finished her lecture on „Tourism and the territory of Spain“. In Barcelona, ​​where tourism defines every aspect of life, in recent years it has become one of the most popular specialities at the university.

Dr. Velislava Simeonova, lecturer at the University of Barcelona: Many students prefer to return to the classrooms, no doubt. There is no requirement for teachers to be vaccinated, however, many of them – I can say for our geography department – have been vaccinated.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Spain was one of the worst affected countries. Today the picture is very different. In the past seven days, the infected in the country of 46 million are 96 cases per 100,000, and in Bulgaria – 183. 82% of Spaniards have been vaccinated. The teachers are in the first group, together with the medics. In this way, the authorities place education among the areas of strategic importance and guarantee the opportunity to return to class.

Dr. Maria Concepcion Amat Miraies, Vice-Rector of the University of Barcelona: The biggest advantage of in-person training is student participation. In a virtual environment, it is very easy to disconnect, to break away from the faculty, from the teachers, from your peers. Now that we are in the audience, we are together and it is much easier to communicate, to enter into dialogue, to ask them questions. This morning in my lecture I did just that. This makes it easier to maintain interest in science, the relationship between them, the relationship between them and the teacher, between them and the institution. We also communicate informally – in the hall, in the common spaces, in the restaurants. We managed to restore the life of the faculties with all their activities almost completely.

The spirit of the university as a community seems intact. This library is one of a total of 17 at the university – with its 300,000 volumes, some of which are 500-600 years old. It works as before the pandemic.

Stevan Apostol Vlasakiev, employee of the library of the University of Barcelona:

We closed from March to June 2020. In June we opened only for borrowing books, people came with an appointment, we prepared their books in bags so that there was minimal contact. … .After September we re-opened, but also with a reserved time and a maximum capacity of 30%. If about 300 people gather here, then…. 80 people could come by noon and 80 in the afternoon. Now, since September, we have removed all measures, as they were no longer needed, and we have opened at full capacity, only asking people to wear masks.

But the year of closure, social distance, loneliness and fears also leaves scars.

Dr. Maria Concepcion Amat Miraies, Deputy-Rector of the University of Barcelona:

We reported some inconvenience and anxiety among the students. Some of them needed emotional support. And they still need it. We have organized a hotline to help anyone who seeks it – from students, teachers, employees of the administration. A psychological help centre has also been set up, where psychologists work with those in need of therapy. But this year the students are happier than last.

BNT: What did you tell them at the first lecture you saw them this year?

Welcome! Welcome! I am very glad to be with you, to see you, to see your eyes that I have not seen for months! It was a great pleasure to be with them. I am a teacher, I love to teach. They appreciate that a lot.

Maxim from Silistra and Walter from Helsinki met in Barcelona. They arrived here at the EAE Business School for an Erasmus + exchange programme of the European Union. They are happy that the programme has been restored with a real presence in the universities and they could meet in Zoom. For them, last year was just a bad memory.

Maxim Dimitrov, student from Bulgaria: I am from Bulgaria, but for the last three years I studied in the Netherlands, in Maastricht, and now I am on an exchange here. Last year we studied 100% online, we attended only exams and if we have any additional questions to ask the teacher. I am a person who likes to see, to touch, to be immersed in the environment to learn something, not alone with the books I read. And from that point of view, it was difficult for me.

Walter Hakonen, a student from Finland: I was in Finland and we also studied completely online. It was very annoying because I need people around me. It is much better to study in person with other people. It was very depressing for me to be at home all the time. It was mentally difficult for me. … .If you are constantly at home for three months, you cannot be happy.

Maxim and Walter are two of the 10 million Europeans benefiting from the Erasmus + programme. It gives a chance to people from 33 countries to study abroad, and its budget has been doubled over the next seven years compared to the previous period – to 26 billion euros – an expression of the importance that Brussels attaches to education.

Maxim Dimitrov: My choice was whether to stay in the Netherlands or Erasmus and an internship somewhere. I wanted to get to know other cultures, to travel, to talk to different people, to expand my horizons. I chose it because of the experience, because of the adventure.

Walter Hakonen: I chose Barcelona because it is completely different from Finland. This is a moment when you just throw yourself into a situation where you don’t know anyone. You meet strangers, you have to make friends, this is a good school for your social skills.

Finnish and Bulgarian. Young people from the south and north of Europe. They are discovering themselves and what Europe is, thanks to the Erasmus + programme, and appreciating the strength of the 27-nation cohesion policy.

Maxim and Walter feel good in the fantastic world of Barcelona. In the city full of Christmas mood, the revival is palpable, tourists are everywhere.

Dr. Velislava Simeonova, a lecturer at the University of Barcelona: During the pandemic, Barcelona lost many of its tourists and perhaps this was a precedent in the overall development of the city for decades, if not since the Spanish Civil War. But tourists are coming back, Barcelona is waking up and we hope that tourism will come again with a new force, more sustainable, more enriching and more secure in terms of infection.

In Spain, the fear of Covid is gone, replaced by reasonable measures and the peace of mind that verything necessary has been done, namely mass vaccination. Life goes on, but along with Covid. With well-learned lessons and care for the most important thing, what affects everyone’s life and determines the future of all together.