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Thematics :

From the start of this unprecedented health emergency, NEOMA has taken a clear position: to favour in-person classes as far as possible and get back as soon as possible to campuses full of life. The Dean, Delphine Manceau, explains.

From September, the School has opted for a ‘blended learning’ model, a mix of in-person and distance learning. How has NEOMA adapted to the situation since then?

For the new academic year we planned for a mixed model with 60% of classes face-to-face and 40% accessed remotely. We were able to provide this in September and October. From the beginning of November and the second lockdown, classes became 100% distance learning but the campuses remained open, with all services related to tuition and student support available and libraries open for students who prefer to follow their online courses on-site. We have also considerably developed our Wellness service to offer support to the students. Several systems have been set up to safeguard their health and welfare, in particular a mentoring system of psychological support for students who feel they need this and a specific grant service for those in financial difficulty.

On 11 January, as soon as we were allowed by the government authorities, we welcomed students in class in small groups of a maximum of ten. These students were volunteers who were suffering from being isolated, felt they were at risk of dropping out, or had poor Internet access.

From 25 January, we were authorised to broaden this return to in-person classes to first-year students, with a limit of half the usual number of people in each room. And since the 1st of February, it was opened up to all students, whatever their programme or year of study, by going back to the system of alternate weeks used in September, with one week in two of distance learning and the other week with in-person classes.

As you can see, we allow in-person tuition as soon as we are authorised to do so and, of course, within the limits of the measures allowed by the health situation, to favour interchange between students and with the teaching staff. And we are scrupulous about meeting all the requirements involving health recommendations and distancing.

Although this return to in-person learning for all students is very encouraging, is it compulsory?

No, in-person learning is not compulsory, it is based on students volunteering. We are aware of the uncertainty weighing over the weeks to come. Many students have left Reims and Rouen and gone back to their home region or country. They will be able to follow their courses online until the end of the academic year.

Does this decision to favour in-person teaching also apply to time spent abroad?

Absolutely. Since we came back in September, we have relied on our network of 338 international partners to maximise opportunities for travel, while leaving it up to each student whether or not to do their half-year or year abroad. This year, despite the situation, 1100 students were able to take part in an academic exchange, mainly in Europe.

In such very uncertain times it would have been easier to keep to a 100% distance-learning model. Why make such an effort to get back to in-person learning?

The experience we are living through shows us the invaluable benefits of in-person learning. We did in fact survey our students in November, and discovered that a number of them were really suffering from being isolated and following all their courses remotely, and they were less engaged in their studies. In a School like NEOMA, a major part of the teaching comes from the interactions and group work between students, as well as from discussions with the teaching staff. Even though we have made huge investments over the past year in digital equipment and in training our teaching staff to provide these discussions and this engagement within their online courses, we know it’s still much more natural and spontaneous when we’re all together on campus. That’s why we are working on implementing as many measures as we can to enable access to the campuses and to in-person classes, while respecting the ministerial directives. It’s not easy, far from it, because the situation is constantly evolving and we have very short deadlines to put things in place, but we are convinced that it’s best for our students, although we leave it up to them to decide whether or not to come back on site.

Students are also very concerned about the situation in the job market. How have you reinforced your activities in this area?

Our mission to support students in this area is more important than ever. Ensuring the long-term employability of our students is at the heart of our commitment, and we are increasing our initiatives to support it. Our Talent & Career Department has reinforced its systems, and we organise many themed workshops and discussion sessions with our graduates. Personalised meetings also provide the opportunity to guide our students towards sectors that are currently recruiting and we offer meetings organised by profession. Mentoring systems have also been set up between young graduates and senior alumni to ensure successful induction into a profession.

We also hear a lot about students’ financial insecurity. What is NEOMA doing abut this?

We have set up a special Covid solidarity fund, in partnership with the NEOMA Foundation, to help students with financial difficulties. Emergency grants totalling € 200,000 have been distributed since the beginning of the health crisis, in addition to the usual grants (which represent an annual budget of € 1.7 million). Our Wellness service is here to help with any problem, you mustn’t hesitate to contact it.

How do you imagine the situation evolving over the current academic year?

It is very difficult to answer that question because there is such great uncertainty. What we know for sure is that we will continue to follow the three founding principles which have guided our actions since this crisis began: providing transparency as soon as we are able, without giving false hope; favouring in-person tuition as much as possible; and remaining always ready to swing into action to enable the students to make the very best of this difficult year.