2020: The Year of the Pandemic at Jamk
The COVID-19 epidemic, which reached the proportions of a global pandemic in 2020, affected the activities of Jamk University of Applied Sciences for most of the year. In practice, Jamk switched to distance learning overnight. RDI activities were continued within the limits of the restrictions.
The first indications and international news about the new COVID-19 virus first identified in China are already received at the turn of the year. As more breaking news come from the Wuhan region and elsewhere in mainland China, Jamk begins to examine if it has employees or exchange students in areas affected by the virus.
At this stage, travel to mainland China is restricted. Taking up studies or traineeships in China is not recommended. Tracking of the impacts of COVID-19 on Jamk's activities starts on the staff intranet on 28 January 2020 and the student intranet on 4 February 2020. FINNIPS entrance examinations in China later in the spring are also cancelled on 18 February 2020.
Hand hygiene is enhanced on campuses from February on. More hand sanitation points are put up on the campuses, and Jamk disseminates the guidelines issued by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare for avoiding infections. The efficiency of cleaning on campuses is also stepped up.
As the first indications of a global pandemic emerge, the travel restrictions are extended to all foreign travel on 3 March 2020. On this date, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) identifies Iran, South Korea and Italy as epidemic areas.
Emergency conditions close Finland down
On 13 March, Jamk employees are instructed to prepare for a transition to distance work. Only a few days later, all universities of applied sciences introduce extensive distance learning by a joint decision on 16 March 2020. The personnel are instructed to start working from home as far as possible. There is no work-related foreign travel, and no foreign visitors are received. On the same day, the Finnish Government and the President of the Republic declare emergency conditions in the country.
The campuses remain open for the time being but, following instructions issued by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, students are urged to avoid meeting and moving around in large groups. Jamk also cancels all events of more than 30 participants involving persons from outside Jamk. Instead of having meetings and events, employees are instructed to use remote connections. Employees are prohibited from participating in work-related events of more than 30 people organised outside the campuses. Participation in leisure time events is also not recommended.
Jamk restricts campus opening hours for the first time from 18 March 2020 on. The entrances are closed, with the exception of the main door on Rajakatu campus, which is open on weekdays from 8:00 to 16:00. Staff members are allowed access to the campuses using their own keys. Distance learning continues. Students on exchanges and other similar periods abroad and foreign students at Jamk begin to move. Students abroad are encouraged to return to Finland, and a recommendation is issued to cancel other mobility periods planned for spring 2020. Students of partner higher education institutions at Jamk wait for recommendations or instructions from their home institutions/countries. Some students return to their home countries, others continue their studies in Finland or abroad.
As the emergency conditions put especially the tourism, hospitality and other service sectors under pressure, Jamk starts offering free consultancy assistance to companies applying for pandemic relief funding in the region. In the meantime, research and development work with Jamk’s partners continues within the limits allowed by the restrictions. For example, laboratory, testing and analysis services continue under exceptional arrangements.
Jamk’s facilities remain closed until the state of emergency is lifted, after which Jamk reopens the doors of its campuses in Rajakatu and Lutakko between 8:00 and 16:00 on weekdays from 14 May. The Finnish Music Campus and the Institute of Bioeconomy in Tarvaala, Saarijärvi remain closed. Contact teaching can be arranged once more, however mainly for small groups, for example in cases where certain teaching or laboratory facilities are required. The number of participants is restricted to ten. Examinations can also be organised for no more than ten candidates at a time. Distance learning mainly continues until the end of the academic year.
Jamk's main campus comes momentarily to life on 23–24 June as the national entrance examinations bring more than 700 applicants to the main campus. Nationally, some 18,000 applicants take the UAS entrance examination on higher education institutions’ campuses. Safety instructions are followed in the examinations, and a maximum of ten applicants are admitted to the same room. More than 100 people participate in arranging the exams at Jamk.
New academic year, new normal
After the summer, the new academic year begins in August with an improved COVID-19 situation. The safety arrangements brought in to avoid infections have become part of daily life and the new normal. Mass events are still banned, and such occasions as the traditional opening of the academic year is organised by virtual means at Jamk on 25 August 2020. Both distance learning and contact and hybrid teaching are provided for the students. Foreign degree students who started their studies in the previous academic years mainly stay in their home countries and opt for distance learning.
As the autumn goes by, the number of COVID-19 cases starts to increase in Finland. In particular, infections spread among young people who attend leisure events and go out at night. On 4 September 2020, Rector Jussi Halttunen and the student union JAMKO appeal to students in order to reduce the case numbers. They are also reminded to use Koronavilkku tracker app. Finally, a COVID-19 infection is also diagnosed at Jamk on 10 September 2020. As a result, approximately 30 students are placed in quarantine. The case does not warrant changes to teaching arrangements, and both distance learning and contact and hybrid teaching are still possible. In practice, however, most of the teaching is organised remotely.
On 25 September 2020, Jamk introduces a recommendation to wear face masks on its campuses, following instructions issued by the City of Jyväskylä. In addition, other public health instructions continue to be followed, including good hand hygiene, social distancing, staying at home when sick and going for a COVID-19 test when experiencing even minor symptoms.
As the virus continues to spread among young people around Finland and several universities of applied sciences are forced to close their campuses due to the case numbers in October, the rectors of universities of applied sciences and the student unions decide to appeal to the students and remind them of responsible behaviour.
The entrance examinations for the autumn round of joint applications are again held on the campuses of universities of applied sciences in October. Around 850 applicants are also invited to Jamk's main campus to take their entrance examinations. Safety instructions are adhered to in the examination arrangements, and thanks to the experience gained in the summer, everything goes smoothly.
In November, Jamk for the first time organises the event aimed at upper secondary level students under a new name, Applicant's Day @ Jamk – and for the first time, fully by virtual means. However, the virtual event draws almost the same number of participants as the traditional Getting to know Jamk event in previous years, or over 750 prospective students from all parts of Finland.
As the autumn progresses, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase throughout the country, and finally in mid-October, the Government recommends that higher education institutions of regions in the acceleration phase of the epidemic switch to distance learning. The City of Jyväskylä also issues this recommendation on 27 November 2020 as Jyväskylä again reaches the acceleration phase. Jamk follows the recommendation and transitions to distance learning. Distance learning at Jamk continues until the end of 2020.