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"Let's fill it with life"! - The renewing Medical School of Pécs

18 May 2020

Huge changes have started on the property of the Medical School of Pécs. However, the new theoretical building being built in the frame of the Modern Cities Program is only the beginning of long-overdue developments, at the end of which the School hopes that the future doctors can study and our researchers and staff can work in a modern, European-standard and people-centered environment. This year, with the outbreak of the pandemic, has brought unexpected difficulties, but just as education cannot stop, these investments have not been suspended either, and moreover, after the forced absence, the citizens of the Medical School, hopefully returning soon, will be received by spectacular changes. We talked to dr. Miklós Nyitrai, dean of the MS, about the plans, which are now embodied in a more tangible form.

 

Written by Gábor Szabó

 

- The campus of the MS has been constantly changing and evolving recently. There have been big dreams, common thinking, then more and more tangible plans, and finally spectacular investments. The School needed all this already, though.

- Indeed, it was very timely to "touch" the infrastructure of the MS, as we have been teaching the students for a very long time under the same conditions, and their number has increased more and more every year, currently it means 3500 people. We should also remember that 6 of medical students in Pécs are now international students, which I think is a uniquely high proportion in Hungary. This means nothing less than the fact that we need to be able to show ourselves and stand our ground internationally as well. The Medical School is a “leading faculty” of the university in a way that the infrastructure could not keep up with the increased demands. Now the conditions were particularly favourable and since we also had plans, we were ready to take advantage of them.

- In addition to these necessary improvements, what is their focus?

- The soul of all these changes is people. I believe it very seriously. Concrete, buildings, but even beautiful, new classrooms and laboratories are worth nothing without those who fill them with life, who provide them with content. At the heart of everything that happens is the better well-being of our students, staff, instructors and researchers, and the best possible service of their needs. The aim is for them to love being here and to consider the campus as their second home.

- An important element of this is the development of this education, in fact, based on the experience of this year; perhaps we could also say renewal. Where does this appear most significantly?

- I hope in all the elements of the developments. The digital transition can indeed be called a renewal. It is important that we did not experience this as a pandemic-induced pressure only, because we have been preparing for it for years, with PotePedia, for example, but it has given us a boost to get started a little earlier. Adapting the renewal of our infrastructures to our educational development is also a number one aspect, as what would be the point of a self-serving construction process? When we were preparing the development plans, we had already very consciously incorporated these educational needs that only existed in the future at that time. A very characteristic point of this is the technique of the lecture and seminar rooms of the new theoretical building, which will be opened with equipment having the capabilities of professional, audio-visual, multimedia studios.

- Will there be a change in the philosophy of education, how can the School keep pace with the advanced teaching methods emerging in the world?

- My colleagues and I are now working on the concept of a large-scale new learning culture that will fundamentally determine the teaching of the coming years. Digitalisation is not a goal; it is just a tool. This is POTE2020, to which the dean’s leadership is committed. The aim of the new learning culture concept is to promote the effective future application of the created learning materials, to encourage further innovations, and to help our instructors and students with good advice. We would like this concept to give new dynamic to the creative, innovative thinking of our instructors and students, to the unfolding of the creative imagination. By using state-of-the-art technologies and carefully selected pedagogical methods, we would like to teach students the way they would like to study in the 21st century. Of course, we do all this not by eroding the standard, but rather by raising it. A special feature of this process will be that the students will no longer be passive participants in the implementation, but they will also appear as partners, taking more responsibility for how their training develops. In this way, the renewed infrastructure will be able to form an integral part with the content and methodological elements of our education. I am convinced that we have all the potential to not only follow the changes in the learning culture of the 21st century, but to be at the forefront of the processes that shape it.

- The most spectacular now is undoubtedly the new building, many people were worried about what would happen with the construction. To what extent has the current situation delayed the schedule, when will the building become available?

- Indeed - in its size and function - this is the biggest element of the development, as the modern, two large lecture halls and thirty-six seminar rooms will be a huge extra resource in our education. The top two floors will provide four of our excellent departments with places that meet their needs. We were afraid, of course, that the current situation would cause problems, but fortunately, the disruptions remained at a manageable level. Delays in foreign deliveries, which are understandable in the current situation, are mainly causing the delays in the construction, but overall, it has not stopped even for a moment, so I can say that the new building will already serve our education in the fall.

- In addition, knowing the plans, the environment of practically the whole Szigeti Street block will be renewed, including the park surrounding the buildings, and many existing buildings will also be renewed, some of which will be given a new function. Moreover, the old theoretical building is also affected by the changes. Can we recall what has happened so far and what is happening now?

- Landscape gardening and the renewal of the campus environment in general is an important part of the investment. The area between the Janus Pannonius Clinical Block and the new educational building will show the renewal of our beautiful large park since more than two thousand plants, an artificial lake and other architectural elements of the park will be placed in it according to the plans. It is already very spectacular that the previous, not really aesthetic fence on Kürt Street has disappeared, and as a result, a normal pavement and new claddings could finally be placed here. The kindergarten, operating on the premises of ​​the Medical School, and its playground have also been renovated, the cost of which was significantly supported by the School's own resources. A new parking lot has been built opposite the kindergarten. A new campus driveway is now being built, which will finally have an independent exit lane as well. This will be much higher than the previous entrance, on Kürt Street, i.e. further away from the crossroads of Szigeti Street, which will be much more comfortable for everyone and it will hopefully solve the problem of regular congestion in the mornings and afternoons. The fence next to the south parking lot will also disappear, and we would like to install modern and practical benches in its place, which is a conscious extension of the "open campus" idea. The shade sails will also be returned to the park by the time the School is full of life again.

- Although the medium-term plans include the complete renovation of the old building, for some time it will certainly be necessary to settle for the coexistence of the old and the new. At the same time, significant restructurings are also underway in the old building. What does it mean exactly?

- The campus reorganization does not end here indeed. Some of the current tasks are, of course, related to the ongoing construction, as for example due to the change of the routes for the firefighters, the road section in front of the main entrance is changing, which in practice means new, wider, stronger, completely new cladding, and we can relocate the bicycle parking stands to a more suitable, practical location next to the gas terminal. This area will be more beautiful and much tidier in terms of appearance as well. We are also preparing for major changes in the building itself, but due to their volume, I would give them a few more years.

Right now, the connection of the old and the new building on the ground floor and the first floor is being implemented, as well as the renovation of the air conditioning system in the Aula, the latter has long been necessary. Once the departments move into the new building, we would like to make the most from the space vacated in the old building. One example of this is the expansion of the MediSkillsLab, which will essentially occupy the entire fourth floor, with more than two thousand square meters, and it will serve the practical, especially clinical training with state-of-the-art equipment. Despite the initial difficulties, we have been able to obtain the financial resources for this, so this investment will also start soon.

- The renewal of community and learning spaces has emerged as one of the most important student needs in recent years. What will be the way in this case? How will the tasks and functions be divided between the spaces of the old and new buildings?

- We are trying very hard to please our students and staff because if students feel good on campus in addition to world-class education, they will have beautiful memories, they will definitely recommend it to others to spend these years here. The new building will offer very cosy community spaces, but we are also planning a number of restructurings in the old one. One of these is the expansion and renewal of the library, which will be more of a modern learning space in which the very valuable and interesting collection of the Medical School’s Museum can also have its worthy place.

We place great emphasis on the modernization of learning spaces anyway. In addition to the state-of-the-art classrooms in the new building, we are exploring the possibility of transforming the smaller lecture halls having only one function, which will be vacated in the old building due to the extra capacity of the new building, into digital learning spaces with computer devices providing virtual or simulated educational environment, even for purposes of individual studying. The transition to a fully digital classroom management system will play a major role in the optimal allocation of the functions. Hopefully, we will experience the benefits of this in the next semester.

- Talking about the narrower campus, the animal unit will also be relocated. Where will it be placed and when will it be ready?

- We now refer to it more as a Preclinical Research Center, which expresses its function more accurately. According to the plans, this will be accomplished by redesigning the old central warehouse building. We have obtained the resources for this as well, we are in the preparation stage for the time being because we have to comply with strict regulations, but this is also progressing well, we would like this to be implemented next summer as well.

- Meanwhile, the construction of the Dental Block on the other side of Szigeti Street has started. As far as I know, the special feature of the investment will be the dual function of the building. When is it planned to be completed?

- Construction began on 16 March, and when the university citizens return, they will see spectacular progress there as well. The design was also a special task, as the result will be an ultra-modern, very high-quality educational and patient care environment with a floor area of ​​3,800 square meters. If there is no unexpected turn of events, this will also serve our education next summer.

- The technical handover and moving into the new block will take place this summer, and based on what we have heard, next summer will also be special. As the devil’s advocate, I have to ask what the case with sustainability is, since anything new means new costs as well.

- I think our resources are available for this even now, so we do not have to worry about that. Our trainings are popular, and our developments serve the very purpose of keeping them popular, that is, we should be better, more attractive. We have no reason to doubt that the number of our students will remain the same.

- Based on all this, what kind of vision unfolds for the Medical School of Pécs?

- We have talked about the details of the current developments. It must be seen, however, that the most important goal of these strategic plans is inspiration. To be thought-provoking, to stimulate innovation and motivate students, instructors, and staff to take action. I am convinced that now is the time for these developments. Their implementation will require community thinking, the development of a new, modern approach, collaboration and innovation, which will not happen overnight. But the changes will be good, with their help our School can embark on a development path that can make Pécs one of the best medical training places in the world in the international competition, even under the constantly changing conditions. With such traditions and characteristics, what else could our goal be?