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University of West Attica Unveils Post-Pandemic Goals And Challenges in Higher Education

The newly established University of West Attica (UNIWA), headquartered in proximity of the emblematic archaeological site of Plato’s Academy in Athens, is so early setting post-pandemic goals with an emphasis on extroversy, research and innovation as it plans to attract more students from abroad through specially designed courses for foreigners.

Launched in 2018, UNIWA was born from the merger of three historic universities that had been operating in the Greek capital for decades; the multidisciplinary Technological Educational Institute of Athens and Piraeus University of Applied Sciences, both founded in 1973, and the prestigious National School of Public Health, founded in 1929 by then-Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.

“Before the merger, the former two schools could only provide undergraduate and master degrees, not doctoral. Now, with the completion of the University and joined by the National School of Public Health, which has been producing postgraduate and research alumni for over 90 years, we are able to offer the full spectrum of titles in our taught disciplines”, Rector Panagiotis Kaldis, PhD, tells Greek Reporter.

Spanning across three campuses and with a fourth one in the making, UNIWA is already the third largest in the country in terms of student numbers; 57000 undergraduate, 5500 postgraduate and 570 doctoral candidates. It boasts twenty-seven departments, covering a wide range of modern science, including social, administrative and economic sciences, engineering sciences, health and welfare sciences, food sciences and art studies.

Nevertheless, there is plenty more ambition for the future of UNIWA.

International Outlook

Currently, the institution’s extroversy is testified to by the large numbers of international research programs that it participates in as well as by the three foreign language post-graduate programs that it offers. Two of them are taught in English, in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Herriot Watt University and London’s Kingston, while the third is a combination of Greek, English and French, and runs in collaboration with the University of Limoges. They cover the fields of mechanical engineering and IT.

“We aspire to introduce more English-speaking study programs starting 2021, which should cover undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees”, the Rector declares, confident that UNIWA obtains the required know-how to succeed in this additional direction.

Rector Panagiotis Kaldis

“We do have the potential, with our staff and their publications, to create a pole that provides high quality educational services for the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and also the diaspora. We consider Greece to be very capable in this sector as a country, and that could, additionally, highlight the Greek civilization, create ambassadors, and thus deploy an education-oriented cultural diplomacy”.

Taking science further

Research is of focal importance at UNIWA, as it is highly involved in multiple European Union research programs and maintains permanent partnerships with several domestic and foreign educational and research institutions.

With 69 research laboratories and over 200 ongoing research projects at its premises, the tech-savvy University has introduced a separate online portal, the R&D eHUB, to present the findings of its students.

Moreover, Rector Kaldis reveals that UNIWA has accepted an offer by international tech giant Hewlett Packard to upgrade its main campus library with a digital hub, which will utilize participatory interaction and augmented reality technologies.

“These will guide our students through digital developments and also mentor high-school pupils interested in joining our faculties when it comes to their professional orientation. A similar project has been implemented in a university in Madrid and is very customary in the great US universities, such as Harvard and Yale”, he explains.

The post-pandemic teaching reality

As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, UNIWA adapted quickly to the new global reality by adopting tele-education practices, both synchronous and asynchronous, in each field of studies. Notebooks were provided to its teaching and administrative staff to ensure the smoothest possible continuation of all study programs.

However, the Rector is adamant that teaching in person cannot be substituted by distance learning, at least in particular sciences.

“We see tele-education as an investment which was useful to happen, and which did give us a further boost technology-wise. But we believe that a combination of the two -in person and distant teaching- might be the best solution and a prospect for the future.

“Subjects that we teach such as obstetrics, nursing, biomedicine, also our engineering courses, are necessary to include participatory teaching in person, even if in small groups of students. That is why, when the conditions allow it, supposedly around May 2021, we will run crash courses to make up for the skipped laboratory and clinical work, in order to achieve the desired result and the level of quality of studies that we pursue as an educational institution”, he specifies.

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