December 19, 2021

Keeping society’s trust in science

This year was, again, another challenging year for citizens, governments, businesses in general, and universities. For the second year in a row, NOVA University was put to the test and, once again, thrived in its mission to serve society through knowledge. 

Unlike 2020, in 2021 we used the experience from the year before to respond in anticipation to the ongoing challenges brought by the pandemic. 

Our faculty learned how to teach, to do research, and to grow new ideas with our partners in the academia and in the industry, under these difficult and uncertain circumstances. 

Students learned how to use digital tools in their learning experience, to interact virtually with teachers and with other students whenever necessary, and to enjoy life on campus in a safe manner with social distancing and by wearing face masks. 

General staff engaged in different forms of collaboration with each other in a new hybrid workplace, serving as test beds for the implementation of new forms of work organization aimed at better conciliation between work, family and personal life, reducing absenteeism and increasing job productivity.

But, most importantly, thanks to the development of a vaccine, we were able to bounce back and move from a stage of reaction to a stage of action.  

The measurements implemented by the Portuguese government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impressive response of the Portuguese population to the mass vaccination process have paid-off: Portugal is now the European country with the highest vaccination coverage and among the world’s best success caseswith roughly 87 percent of its population of 10.3 million fully vaccinated. As a result, Portugal ended most of its coronavirus restrictions, new cases dropped steeply, as did patients in intensive care and number of deaths. 

Apart from the very important role played by the effective combination of policy, logistics and communication, these results showcase that Portuguese people have faith in Science. That was not the case in many Western nations, where a significant share of their populations are still unprotected despite having plenty of vaccine supplies.  

NOVA, as a place for science creation and dissemination, must continue to honor that trust by providing excellent teaching and research, engaging in new partnerships that foster innovation and our international presence, and never losing sight of its focus on the social and economic well-being of the population. That was already central to us. The only difference is that we have now included the safety of our facilities against covid-19 and all necessary measures to protect the health of our students, teachers, researchers and employees as part of our core priority.

Universities have a long history of developing their activities in unstable, disruptive and unpredictable contexts, so we have to face the possibility that the current global health crisis might stay with us for a while. 

If that is the case, NOVA will have to show that it can be innovative and proactive in good times and bad times, while at the same time re-think what the future will look like after COVID-19 and take steps towards this.

We already know some of the futuristic trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic: technology-enhanced learning, need for up-skilling and re-skilling, hybrid forms of working, just to give a few examples.

But in the coming years there will be a greater demand for equal and inclusive access, SDG-oriented research and more solutions to tackle some of society’s most pressing needs.

This will provide NOVA with an opportunity to stand out as a key contributor to the community’s social and economic development, to strengthen its connection with different partners, both local and global, and to reinforce people’s trust in the quality of our teaching and research and in NOVA’s role in contributing to the wellbeing and advancement of our society. 

To all our friends and partners from across the YERUN community, we wish you a nice and peaceful holiday period and a brighter 2022!

João Sàágua

Rector of NOVA University Lisbon

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