An academic year start unlike any other at UTC

The students of the University of Technology of Compiègne have just started a new academic year unlike any other. Some will say it is ‘out of the ordinary’, others ‘abnormal’. And yet we had to adapt to a very complex health context.

An academic year start unlike any other at UTC

First there was the admission procedures for new students, quite different from other years, of course. “Until now, admission to UTC was based on an analysis of the candidates' academic record and possibly with an oral interview conditioned by results above a certain threshold," explains Valérie Kopinski, head of the UTC Admissions Office. “This year, due to the health context, we had to cancel the oral interviews, but we still took the option of maintaining an additional element to the academic file; an individual project dossier." As an alternative to the oral interviews, the dossier allowed us to discover the candidates' motivations, their extra-curricular activities and their career desires after their studies. This initiative also helped maintain equality between candidates, as the Ministry of Higher Education has said that it is not in favour of on-line interviews, which prove to be too random depending on the candidates' Internet connections.

And then we had to come back to the class-rooms and lecture-halls at the beginning of the academic year. For the September intake, first of all. "Even if we were able to initiate back-to-“Uni” activities as we do every year, but with our masks and hydro alcoholic gels, all the evenings of the student induction-integration period were cancelled, and that period had a different taste," says Pierre Gibertini, a UTC third-year student (read his testimony on page 12). Distance learning lectures, a semi-remote system for seminar group classes (TDs, with half of the class present and the other half at home); the keyword for this new school year was pedagogical innovation. To accompany these transformations, the UTC's Pedagogical Support Unit has been developing distance learning platforms since last March. “We didn't start from scratch," explains its manager Manuel Majada. “We already had distance learning platforms. But the lock-down and this hybrid back-to-“Uni” season have forced us to develop new systems on a massive scale.”

Seen from the students’ angle, the system is very popular. “I must admit that I was reassured at the start of the new year to see that all the precautionary measures have been put in place," continues Pierre Gibertini. “I was happy to come back to the TD room, but I was also very happy to see that I didn't have a neighbour sitting just next to me and that the distancing measures were respected.”

Alas, a few weeks after the start of the academic year, the UTC was forced to close in the face of an increased numbers of COVID-19 cases. This was fortunately not enough to shatter UTC’s resolve, and it once again adapted its teaching protocols, moving to 100% on line classes.

With the new lockdown and closing of all French higher education institutions, UTC continues its digital transformation against the backdrop of ‘Moodle’, ‘Zoom’ and other ‘Discord’ platforms.

Consequently it is true to say that time can sometimes seem long for students, but here and there initiatives are emerging to maintain social links. Thus in line with the virtual “team building” operations organised by several UTC associations, used to "forge solid, remote on-line links", or the live show-programmes on UTC’s school's social networks, run by the administration and animated by students. A major competition was even held, bringing together students and local residents to elect the Compiégnois' favourite bar. A welcome memory of life before ...

Nevertheless, in these confined periods, time takes its toll. "Honestly, I can't wait to get back to class, I can't wait to see my friends again and I can't wait to get back to normal student life," says one female student who happened to be active in a Messenger chat exchange. “It's not easy to be 20 years old in 2020," said the President in one of his most recent speeches. At the UTC, as elsewhere, we're waiting for better days.