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COPING WITH COVID-19: WORKING CHALLENGES FOR SCIENTISTS AT AUSTRIAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

L.A. van Essen1, U. Hugl2, S. Hammer3

1University of Innsbruck (PhD student) (AUSTRIA)
2University of Innsbruck (AUSTRIA)
3University of Veterinary Medicine (AUSTRIA)
Universities face grim COVID-19-related challenges. Among other uncertainties, the adaption of new technological skills, a required dealing with home office-rearrangement, fear of job loss, a time-intensive support of students in digital environments as well as a disruption of the familiar information and communication are only a few examples of some changing parameters during the existing COVID-19-crisis. Anyhow, the related global health emergency forced Austrian universities to close - to a greater or less extent - their campuses for students since spring 2020 (ongoing). Exception regulations at most universities solely refer to a partially permission to conduct exams or give lessons in attendance for small groups of students (for example teaching in laboratories, for doing outdoor excursions as well as giving exams in studies where it is hardly possible to examine online resp. open book). All other activities of scientists are mainly done in on-line mode working from home.

How does this new kind of work environment affect Austrian scientists? To answer at least some aspects of this question, academic staff of 18 public universities has been surveyed to find their estimations regarding online teaching and several surrounding issues. The implementation of the study was supported by the Association of the Scientific, Teaching and Artistic Staff of Austrian Universities (holding organization situated in Vienna, www.ulv.at).
Collected contemporary data was exposed to descriptive and inductive statistical analysis using appropriate econometrical techniques. The main covered topics of our study are the following:
(a) experiences regarding online teaching (adjustment and implementation);
(b) surrounding aspects like reasons for working restrictions;
(c) technically-related barriers;
(d) data protection and information security when working and teaching outside of the former working place; and
(e) infrastructure-related questions.

Among others, our results show that university teachers and researchers suffer from a lack of face-to-face communication with colleagues and students as well as from inadequate infrastructure and tools under COVID19 circumstances. Nevertheless, despite a very difficult situation during the first months of the COVID-19-crises with a changeover toward distance learning overnight, more than half of respondents (58%) value teaching performance as very good or good. These results illustrate a very high commitment and motivation.

Beside the presentation of our results in detail, we also will address some concluding critical remarks regarding the existing legal background, pitfalls of the management control system for public universities in use, the role of the responsible ministry as well as current developments and prospects for scientists’ and students’ work and learning at public Austrian universities.