Universities will be allowed to have more than 75 students in the same lecture hall, from September 25. Photo: DUB

Dutch government allows lecture halls to be crowded again

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that, from September 25 onwards, universities in the Netherlands will be allowed to gather more than 75 students in the same lecture hall. 

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“Large group lectures will be offered again soon”, stated Rutte in his latest press conference on the pandemic, held on Tuesday, September 14. The students will not have to stay 1.5 metres away from each other, either.

What's more, face masks will no longer be required in the hallways as of September 25.  However, the prime minister does urge those attending higher education institutions to get tested regularly. “You should take self tests often, for example twice a week. That advice remains in place in order to reduce the risk of infection.” Students and staff can still order home testing kits for free.

Social distancing
The ‘six-feet society’ is therefore bound to disappear, even though the virus is still circulating. Rutte stressed the importance of still giving each other enough space, but that will soon no longer be mandatory.

But not everything is going back to normal. People will soon have to show a QR code to be granted access to cafés, theatres, movie theatres and similar venues. The QR code is a certificate that the person has been either fully vaccinated, can prove that they recovered from Covid, or have tested negative in the last 24 hours.

The certificates will not be required at higher education institutions, however, at least not for now. This could change if infection rates rise again, the Dutch cabinet said in an earlier announcement.

Lisanne de Roos, chairperson of the National Students' Association, believes most students were glad to hear this news. “Since the reopening, two weeks ago, we’ve been swamped with enthusiastic comments from students feeling that they can finally be real students again, after 18 months of restrictions. Once these last measures are removed, there will be even more reason to celebrate.”

Online
During the first weeks of the academic year, many students were still attending classes online, despite the fact that many restrictions have been lifted already. According to De Roos, courses remained hybrid because of the rule restricting the amount of students in the lecture hall to 75. But now, in her view, there isn't “anything standing in the way of face-to-face classroom teaching anymore”, although she hopes that universities will continue to offer online classes for those students in poor health. 

The Ministry of Education states that teaching can return to the way it was before the pandemic, “but first allowing enough time for timetable adjustment”.

The universities themselves seem happy but cautious. It’s good news for students and lecturers that they “can return to campus in a more or less normal way”, says Pieter Duisenberg of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU, Dutch acronym). “We’re going to be looking at how we can make use of the extra space in a safe and responsible way.”

Vulnerable
He’s taking into consideration the fact that “vulnerable students and faculty” will not feel safe when the last coronavirus restrictions are relaxed. “As we have been doing, the universities will continue to consult with them in order to arrive at the best solution.”

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