Staying “OPEN” During a Pandemic: How CEU Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis

July 30, 2020

by Lirim Krasnici, MA student in the Department of Political Science

Similarly to many other universities around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak imposed a new and unprecedented challenge upon Central European University. Over the past couple of months, CEU has had to quickly adapt all of its operations, starting from moving programs online and adjusting the curriculum, to navigating students’ movements and implementing safety measures to protect everyone’s life. Having a very diverse student body (with over 100 nationalities), and operating in two different countries exposed CEU from the very beginning to the pandemic that was spreading around the world.   

However, CEU managed to fully continue with all of its operations. As of today CEU has not had a single person infected with the virus and has kept its community close and active. There are several factors that made this possible, and it is worth emphasizing some of them. 

Early Preventive Measures  

One of the most important steps CEU took was their early preventive measures which were quickly put in place in February – way before either Austria or Hungary followed suit once the virus became a real and dangerous threat. The WHO declared the coronavirus disease a Public Health Emergency on January 31st, however, the first cases in Austria and Hungary were discovered in February and early March respectively. 

Furthermore, CEU began implementing safety measures as well as offering hygiene products such as disinfectants at all of their entrances and places where people had any contact with the staff or other students. 

Quickly Moving to the Online World 

Even though the university does not offer online classes, it quickly adapted to the online world offering online classes, seminars, events, and so on. All professors adapted their class schedules to fit an online setting so that all students would be able to follow and continue learning from their homes, thus limiting human contact to a minimum. In solidarity with the people in its community in Hungary, CEU even started to offer free online educational and cultural programs. 

Supporting Students, Faculty, and Staff with Anything 

Another factor that contributed to CEU’s successful response to COVID-19 was the continuous support that it provided to its students, faculty, and staff during the difficult months of quarantine. All CEU students were invited to move to Budapest and live on the CEU campus. Due to a large number of students, and the fact that all students were provided with the opportunity to live separately in a room at the CEU Residence Center, the university booked additional places where they could stay safe and sound. 

In addition, CEU launched an additional emergency fund for all of its students facing difficulties during the pandemic, which received significant support from CEU alumni. For the months of March and April, CEU provided food services to all of its students residing in Budapest to further prevent human contact and reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Medical Center and psychological counseling were readily available during this time for all students, faculty and staff. 

Communication 

None of the factors mentioned above would have been successful without proper communication. The Communications, Careers, Recruitment and Alumni offices have all been super active in promptly informing students, faculty, staff, alumni, as well as prospective and incoming students in regard to every single tiny development during this extraordinary time. The rector himself was on the frontline to communicate every update regarding the pandemic situation. Whether it was the suspension of in-person classes, postponing non-crucial travel, or providing informative materials regarding the virus, all CEU departments provided the necessary information to students and staff in a timely manner.