Free sandwiches, soup and fruit to lure students back to campus

14 Apr 2022

It is still not very crowded on campus after the end of the final corona regulations. To fix the situation, the Institute for Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy will be offering free lunches to students for a week. This measure helps, albeit temporarily. ‘There might be a few more students in the lecture halls.’

It is Wednesday, a quarter to noon. A long table in the Huygens building is filled with soup, sandwiches, bananas, apples, and various sandwich toppings. Additionally, there is apple juice, orange juice, coffee, and thee.

Students of mathematics, physics or astrophysics coming out of their lecture halls can take a plate and make sandwiches with cheese, humus, chocolate paste or sprinkles. The more lecture halls empty out into the hallway, the busier the ground floor gets.

According to Robin Smeets, student assessor for Mathematics, students of the beta faculty have yet to return to campus en masse after the pandemic. ‘I’ve had seminars where only two out of 20 students were present’, he says. ‘Other lecturers and students tell similar stories.’

600 Sandwiches

In order to lure more students back to campus, the Institute for Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy will be offering free lunches throughout the entire week. The action was devised in a brainstorm and was announced to students via email, social media, app groups, and the computer screens in the Huygens building.

Robin Smeets and Lauren Keizer. Photography: Johannes Fiebig

With great success, as it turns out. ‘There are between 150 and 200 students at lunch each day’, Smeets says. ‘Our 600 to 700 sandwiches were almost completely gone yesterday. We had to go to Albert Heijn at half past seven this morning to stock up.’

As a student assessor for Physics and Astronomy, Lauren Keizer serves as a bridge between students and the Institute. She hopes that the free sandwiches can help students to see the added value of going to campus. ‘That is why we’re offering lunch for the entire week’, she says. ‘That allows students to immediately get into the right rhythm. Hopefully, they’ll return next week as well.’

No Attendance Requirement

Last month, lecturers from three different faculties told Vox that students had a hard time coming back to the lecture halls after the end of the corona regulations. This week, Kristof Jacobs, lecturer in Political Science, tweeted about a lecture where only 10 out of 113 students attended in person.

Sociologist Niels Spierings can understand why the lecture halls are still relatively empty. ‘This can be partly explained by corona fear; we shouldn’t underestimate that’, he says.

‘To first- and second years, a normal day of lectures means sitting behind a screen, logging on and off’

But according to the sociologist, a larger issue is the first and second years students, who started their studies amidst the pandemic. ‘To them, a normal day of lectures means sitting behind a screen, logging on and off. They’ve never known the process of coming to campus, having lunch with fellow students, and talking about lecture materials.’

Spierings does not have one-on-one solutions for getting students back to campus en masse. ‘As a sociologist, I see little proof for major effects of large campaigns, and an attendance requirement would not provide the right motivation’, he says. ‘Teachers should exude and make sure that attending lectures on campus is useful. It should become the norm again. If you don’t attend, you’re missing out on lesson material as well as the interaction needed to process it. If students don’t attend, they are principally responsible, barring exceptional circumstances.’

Breakfast

According to Spierings, students also have a responsibility to each other. ‘I would like to see students encourage each other to attend lectures on campus; to have them address each other, in app groups if need be.’

Photography: Johannes Fiebig

Spierings goes on to say that Radboud University can take additional steps. ‘If we want to give students additional motivation, it would help if the campus was appealing enough. There needs to be enough room to have lunch, and there need to be enough spaces for group work and self-study.’

The sociologist thinks that free lunches such as those in the Huygens building are an original idea. ‘You could even get students to campus earlier by offering a free breakfast, which would ensure a more productive day’, he says. ‘It would cost the university a bit of money, but there are plenty of benefits.’

Added Value

The lunches are not the only way that the Institute is trying to reach more students. ‘When talking to students, we as student assessors emphasize the added value of attending lectures in person’, Keizer says. ‘And that they will get into a rhythm if they keep coming, because these are intense courses, after all.’

‘I was coming to class anyway, but it’s a nice gesture’

In any case, Ella, a first-year student of Physics, is happy with the Institute’s initiative. I was coming to class anyway, but it’s a nice gesture’, she says, while putting a slice of cheese on a bun. ‘But it is true that a lot of students are following classes from home’, according to her classmate Anne. ‘Especially those people that live further away, such as in Limburg.’

‘It’s always the same students that come to campus, and the same students that stay home’, according to Joep, another first-year student of Physics. ‘But there might just be a few more students here now.’

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