Rector of Frederick University, professor George Demosthenous, explains how the university adapted successfully to the Covid era and what the university has to offer
What changes were made at the university with the start of the pandemic?
From the beginning of the outbreak, the university has been fully in-line with all governmental and other competent authorities and managed to respond to the challenge of Covid-19 responsibly and effectively.
Our priority has always been to protect the health of our community – staff and students – while ensuring at the same time that the highest level of quality education offered to students was maintained.
Paramount to this success was the swift and agile manner in which the University’s Senate reacted to the manifold challenges. These ranged from the development of a rigorous training programme for staff to adapt to the new technologies and policies to the development of an efficient and effective policy for the execution of the final examinations. In relation to the latter, alternative assessment methods were developed making use of technology to ensure that the integrity of the examination process was maintained and at the same time ensuring that all actions were in full compliance with the guidelines of the Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education.
For all these changes, a comprehensive training programme was developed and made available to all students so as to become acquainted with online written assessment. A pilot implementation of this new assessment process followed to ensure its successful use by all students. At every step of the process, students had at their disposal all the necessary technical support, but also the support of their professors and the university.
Appreciating that this was a worrying and difficult time for students, we continued to support them to ensure they were able to tackle any challenges they might face in the best possible way. From counselling services and fitness sessions, and from tutoring to career advice, all student services were provided remotely, through distance communication.
During this time, we encouraged and enabled our staff to work from home and took all necessary measures to ensure the welfare of members of our staff that were still working from campus. We put protective measures in place in accordance with official guidance. Our health and safety protocol includes, among others, frequent cleaning and disinfection of all university areas. In addition, each member of the community received a personal Health & Safety pack.
How did existing distance learning programmes help with the switch online?
Our experience in operating distance learning programmes of study has proved invaluable in mobilising our resources and switching all and our conventional courses to online delivery. We actually managed to do that within just three days. The accumulated know-how in the use of distance learning tools was acquired over the last seven years through the delivery of 13 distance learning programmes. The experience and preparedness of both academic and administrative staff in distance learning programmes enabled the university to minimise any problems and ensure a smooth transition to online teaching. Impressively, the policies employed ensured that no lecture time was lost in any programme of study.
How did staff manage with the changes?
Even though the pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of the university life, it has also brought out the very best in our community. Students, academic and administrative staff came together in this time of national emergency and social need and showed the utmost responsibility, commitment, mutual support and goodwill. They quickly adapted to the rapidly changing circumstances, and ensured the safety and support of each other. Our research teams also played a key role in supporting the community and the society in recovering from the economic and social effects of the crisis. From surveys to social science research, they carried out valuable research related to Covid-19 to help in understanding the short-term and long-term effects of the pandemic and create positive impact.
Once measures started to relax did the university offer hybrid learning?
Yes. We firmly believe that student physical interaction with the university community – faculty, administration, fellow students – is paramount to the holistic university experience, especially at undergraduate level. Therefore, we invested heavily during the summer to develop hybrid classrooms in our campuses in both Nicosia and Limassol that allow for the simultaneous bidirectional communication of people physically in the class and those participating virtually and, as we moved from lockdown through to the gradual reopening of services, a blended educational process (online and on campus) was adopted. The successful deployment of hybrid classrooms and blended delivery policies ensured that our community enjoyed the best of both worlds for the maximum period while enabling appropriate density population levels in campus.
What changes will be made for the 2021/22 academic year?
While Covid-19 will continue to affect our operations, we are committed to continue offering our students an optimal teaching and learning environment for the new academic year, considering the everchanging circumstances. As always, our decisions will be driven by the guidelines and the framework that will be defined by the Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education (CYQAA) and the guidelines and directives from the health ministry. Our commitment is to ensure that our students enjoy a model learning environment which includes the use of state-of-the art technology and pedagogical practices
Where will a degree from Frederick be recognised?
Our programmes of study are fully recognised nationally and internationally and structured within the framework of the Bologna Accord. We have received many accolades and certifications from independent international bodies that ensure the high level of education provided and also the credibility of the titles of the programmes of study awarded. All programmes have been evaluated and accredited by the CYQAA.
Does the university offer students the chance to spend some time overseas?
Yes. We offer a variety of opportunities to study, train or work in Europe and beyond for up to 12 months, through scholarships, grants and collaborations with other institutions. Students can participate in the Erasmus+ Programme to study abroad in one of our partner institutions for one semester or one academic year through a scholarship that covers travel and living expenses. They can also get a scholarship to continue their studies in leading universities and research centres, and even participate in educational trips to a variety of destinations abroad and join a summer school or summer courses. Finally, students can be trained abroad from two up to 12 months per each cycle of study, through an Erasmus+ scholarship, acquire professional experience abroad though IAESTE, Vulcanus in Japan and other programmes, or participate in volunteering activities, pursue internships and training in EU institutions and participate in international competitions.
Are there any scholarships available for students?
Taking into account the conditions that have been developed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to continue to offer significantly reduced tuition fees for the academic year 2021-2022. In addition, full and partial scholarships are offered to new full-time undergraduate students based on the average grade on their High School Leaving Certificate from public or private secondary schools in the Republic of Cyprus.
Partial scholarships are offered to new postgraduate students based on their academic performance in their Bachelor’s degree. Full or partial scholarships are also offered to students based on their performance in sports, while special scholarships are offered to transfer students. We also offer financial aid to candidates, based on various socio-economic criteria. Finally, we offer special scholarships covering 50 per cent of the tuition fees to all girls who choose to study undergraduate programmes in engineering and technology at Frederick University for the academic year 2021-22. This is part of a long-term campaign that has been recently launched to educate girls from an early age about the prospects of engineering and technology, areas in which women’s participation is disproportionate, even though these sectors have excellent employment prospects and offer attractive pay packages.