Photo: DUB

What if you have a cold and miss classes?

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Students can finally occupy the lecture halls again. That is good news, but what if your health is fragile? What if you have to miss classes because of cold symptoms? Student organisations ISO and LSVb aren't convinced by universities' reassurance.

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In the forthcoming academic year students will be allowed to attend lectures without social distancing. However, the group size may not exceed 75 students, and face masks are mandatory in hallways, where walking routes must be observed.

If you have a cold or experience any other Covid-related symptoms, you must stay at home. That's expected to happen rather frequently, now that the autumn is coming. And let's not forget students and lecturers who suffer from poor health and cannot be vaccinated.

Common sense
The Dutch Ministry of Education thinks that higher education institutions are perfectly able to find solutions to these practical problems on a case-by-case basis, by using common sense and “mutual respect”. Nevertheless, how will this actually work in practice?

“I think the discussions still need to get going”, says Ama Boahene, Chair of the Dutch Student Union. “I’m worried that it isn’t going to work out in all cases.”

Lisanne de Roos, Chair of the Dutch National Students’ Association, is worried, too. “Students mustn’t fall behind in their studies if they are required to self-quarantine when experiencing Covid-19 symptoms”, she says. “That would not encourage people to follow the rules.”

According to a brief survey, higher education institutions want to “enter into dialogue” to find solutions case-by-case. After all, the situation can differ per student and per discipline, they say. Because of the heavy workload, they prefer not to ask lecturers to offer their classes on hybrid form.

Lecturers
Universities are confident that their lecturers will be able to teach in person. “A survey showed that the majority of our employees expect to feel safe on campus in September and they're looking forward to working there again”, stated Maastricht University. Delft University of Technology points out that the vaccination rate among students is high, something they deem “a positive sign.” If any lecturers do have to stay away from campus, they can generally make arrangements, according to the university's spokesperson.

While foreseeing few problems with lecturers, UvA Amsterdam has a more formal point of view. It says on its website that staff members can turn to the occupational health physician for advice. “A senior manager or dean/director has the final say on what the best solution is.”

Students
Missing classes can sometimes have consequences for students. The attendance requirement will apply once more across the board, with certain reservations. Some students might have to take a certain course again at a later stage if they are unable to attend, says the University of Twente. VU Amsterdam has a similar opinion: “It is of course harder to catch up on a practical assignment than on a lecture, but an alternative assignment could be devised for certain students.”

UU's Education Chair Renee Filius used similar terms in a conversation with DUB. "Suppose someone cannot attend a tutorial on campus because they have to quarantine. In that case, the easiest alternative is to allow them to watch it online. If that's not possible, then we must look for creative alternatives, like an assignment to replace the tutorial. It is true that few courses at UU have an attendance requirement. But if students do want to follow the class, they just cannot be on campus, then we must offer them an alternative."  According to Filius, it is up to the individual programs to determine how they will accommodate students who are unable to attend physical lectures.

To prevent problems with the attendance requirement, ISO and LSVb advocate digital solutions and ‘hybrid’ education (with online and on-campus classes at the same time). Boahene (LSVb) argues that lectures can easily be filmed; that applies to work groups as well. “You can get a student assistant to provide a livestream for a work group. That would make a big difference for a lot of students, even if they cannot participate in it easily.”

She does not believe this would increase the workload. “Lecturers seem to be afraid of having to keep an eye on two classrooms simultaneously: on-campus and online. But if a student assistant is present, that doesn’t have to be the case.”

“The education institutions are sympathetic”, says De Roos (ISO), “but we hear stories from them about a high workload among lecturers, potentially making it harder to offer alternatives. We have a number of concerns in that regard.”

Workload
The responses from Wageningen University and Utrecht University back this up. They stress that ‘hybrid’ education adds to lecturers’ workloads, which are already high. Some institutions, such as HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the University of Amsterdam, have a few special classrooms for hybrid lessons, but cannot provide all the classes there.

Boahene of the LSVb believes that more ought to be done. “I’m very happy about the return of on-campus classes but we have gained a lot of experience of online education. It would be a shame to throw it all away and have to subsequently reinvent the wheel.”

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