Dutch government does not want to involve councils in Covid pass decision

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In view of the rising number of coronavirus infections, the government is considering making it compulsory for students to show a Covid pass (QR code) to be granted access to the buildings of their universities. Student organisations ISO and LSVb are vehemently opposed to this idea. The institutions themselves have practical and fundamental objections as well.

The government is therefore looking to circumvent the opposition with a bill that "does away with the right of employee and student participation bodies to approve the use of the Covid pass at educational institutions”.

The quote is from a letter penned by the outgoing Minister of Health, Hugo de Jonge. The bill will be presented to the House of Representatives next week with a request to take a vote on it the same week. The Senate can then grant its approval a week later.

Current legislation allows for a Covid pass in higher education, but students and staff also have the right of veto. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives insisted that they had such a right on a proposal from political parties CDA, D66 and GroenLinks. Only the parties Ja21 and DENK voted against.

At the time, the idea behind giving councils such a major role was that establishing a proof of vaccination or negative test result as a precondition for entry "only serves a purpose if it is supported by students and lecturers.” The idea was that they would have a choice between going on lockdown or using Covid passes.

If that choice had to be made, most Dutch universities would probably choose the Covid pass. That is the view of, for example, of Utrecht University's Executive Board. "The question we're asking ourselves is: how can we keep education open for as many students as possible? So far, we've been saying that we don't want to implement the QR codes for educational activities, but if the government decides to do it, and we have to choose between online education and education on location with the Covid pass, then we'll go for the latter," said UU's President Anton Pijpers during a meeting with the University Council. In Groningen, most students do not seem to harbour any strong objections either.

But higher education institutions would rather not make that choice. Their fundamental objection is that access to education should not be dependent on such a pass. Education is totally different from a festival, a bar or a movie theatre.

In practice, the Covid pass works as follows: citizens download a mobile app called CoronaCheck, to which they must log in with their DigID. The app displays a green check mark if the user has been fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 recently, or tested negative in the last 24 hours. Then, it generates a QR code that can be used to enter venues where a Covid pass is mandatory.

This system is known as 3G, referring to the three ways through which one can obtain a green check mark. The Dutch government is considering introducing 2G as well, which means a negative test result would no longer suffice. It remains to be seen whether the government intends to make 2G compulsory in higher education.