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The rector of the University of Navarra appeals to a magnanimous and supportive vision at the beginning of the academic year: "We intend to ensure that the health and economic crisis does not paralyze projects".

Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero announces the construction of a new building that will also house the Science Museum.

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Opening ceremony of the 2020-2021 academic year. PHOTO: Manuel Castells
04/09/20 16:13 Communication Service


"At the University of Navarra, crises have never led us to park our projects, and now we intend to ensure that the health and economic situation does not paralyze them". This was stated today by the rector of the University of Navarra, Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero, during the opening ceremony of the 2020-21 academic year. A unique event due to the circumstances, with a reduced capacity composed of the members of the Plenary of the Board of Governors and a representation of the highest authorities of Navarra.

In this way, he announced that "the necessary steps are being taken to build a new Science Building on the Pamplona campus as soon as possible". This space will have two different areas: the first will house the classrooms and laboratories that will allow the faculties of Medicine, Nursing, Science, Pharmacy and Nutrition to grow; and the second, the new Science Museum, which will be dedicated to research, education and communication on nature and the environment. "We trust," he added, "that in this adventure we will have significant public support and the help of many institutions and companies committed to biodiversity and sustainable development.

He also referred to the "Prepara2" plan, launched by the University to offer quality face-to-face teaching, but at the same time taking into account different scenarios where online teaching can be provided for some or all students. "If we aim to make the University of Navarra one of the best places in the world to study, we now add a detail: "particularly in times of uncertainty," he said.

Exemplarity of university students in the face of the pandemic

In this regard, Professor Sánchez-Tabernero pointed out that we should not react to the virus with fear or frivolity. "We cannot live in fear, confined to our homes, because that attitude would have serious social, economic and educational consequences. But neither can we behave recklessly, without taking the most effective preventive measures," he said. "We university students must be particularly exemplary. Prudence in rigorously complying with all the rules is the fundamental way to show solidarity in these times of pandemic," he said.

The rector mentioned the measures taken by the academic center for the beginning of the academic year, such as free PCR tests for all professionals and students, permanent medical surveillance, random covid-19 scans and adaptation of spaces, but insisted that "none of these measures will be effective without responsible personal behavior".

Priorities during pandemic: protecting health and jobs

Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero also reviewed the actions of the University of Navarra in the face of the pandemic: "We understood very early on that the crisis required us to clarify our priorities: first, we decided to protect the health of our employees and students, and to maintain jobs; then, we decided to continue carrying out our work with the highest possible quality, in very complex conditions; and finally, we wanted to face the pandemic with an outlook of solidarity, with the idea of helping the most vulnerable people".

With these clear principles in mind, the rector emphasized, the campus was closed very early, teleworking was promoted and face-to-face teaching was transformed into online teaching in a weekend. "During the confinement, 24,000 teaching hours were taught and 68,000 exams were taken non-face-to-face. The Clinic treated 1,600 patients with covid-19, and in Madrid the number of ICU places available tripled and a 95% recovery rate for hospitalized patients was achieved," he recalled. 

Professor Sánchez-Tabernero thanked the employees, both of the teaching centers and of the Clinic, for their commitment during these months, which constitutes "the second pillar of the University's action in the face of covid-19".

He also highlighted the economic effort of the academic center, which has increased its scholarship allocation to alleviate the negative impact of the pandemic on many families. "With the help of many benefactors - many of them former students - the resources allocated to scholarships have grown from 4.5 million euros to 6.5 million. This increase has allowed us to increase the number of students who will receive some kind of financial support from the University this year from 2,000 to 3,000," he explained.

A unique academic event

The opening began with a mass officiated by Mons. Francisco Pérez, Archbishop of Pamplona. This was followed by the academic ceremony in the Aula Magna, in a very unique way due to the special situation we are living in. For the first time in the history of the University it did not begin with the traditional academic parade and the attendance was reduced to the members of the Plenary of the Governing Board and the highest authorities of Navarre. However, it was broadcast live via streaming for the entire university community.

Among the authorities were the Minister of University, Innovation and Digital Transformation, Juan Cruz Cigudosa, who attended on behalf of the President of the Government of Navarra; Unai Hualde, President of the Parliament of Navarra; Enrique Maya, Mayor of Pamplona; Joaquín Galve, President of the High Court of Justice of Navarra; José Luis Arasti, Government Delegate; and José Antonio Sánchez Sánchez-Villares, Chief Prosecutor of Navarra. Also in attendance were the rector of the UPNA, Ramón Gonzalo; and the president of the CEN, Juan Miguel Sucunza, among others.

In addition to the rector's speech, the secretary general, Jesús María Ezponda, who was taking up his post for the first time, read his report, and the inaugural lecture, entitled "Past, present and future of structural analysis and design", was given by Eduardo Bayo, professor at the School of Architecture. The professor of Mechanics of Continuous Media and Theory of Structures made a historical tour of structural design from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations to the present day, when structural analysis concerns all engineering and architecture.

In his review, he recalled that "structure is a common denominator in many fundamental elements that surround us, such as a bridge, a dam, a pedestrian walkway, a building, a vehicle or an airplane". Thus, he recounted the great progress made in the design of structures in the 20th century, with the development of reinforced concrete, the improvement of the joints in laminated steel structures (which made it possible to erect such emblematic constructions as the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building, in 1937 and 1931, respectively) and the ideation of the Finite Element Method, thanks to the appearance of computers.

This method "has allowed the implementation of very consolidated and powerful computational tools, which facilitate very sophisticated analyses, as well as the optimization of different structural designs". "As an example," he explained, "a team of engineers from the University of Sydney studied the Eiffel Tower and concluded that if the Finite Element Method had been applied in its construction, it would have required 46% less steel."

Finally, Eduardo Bayo Pérez highlighted the great field of possibilities that are opening up with the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data techniques: "There is even a new paradigm in sight, Explainable Artificial Intelligence, which uses artificial intelligence techniques based on scientific methods that have already been developed".

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