Half of Social Sciences students goes to class despite having Covid symptoms

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The short questionnaire, which was answered by 470 students, reveals that 49.79 percent of the students has been to the university while having Covid-like symptoms at least once. 

A little more than 18 percent of respondents stated that they do get tested for the coronavirus if they don't feel well or if one of their roommates has Covid. But about half of the respondents only do that occasionally. Over 30 percent said they never get tested.

They were not asked whether they take self-tests in case of symptoms, as that policy was new when the survey was conducted. The faculty has a total of 5,600 students.

The student members of the council decided to take the survey after three students wrote an open letter complaining about the compulsory attendance policy adopted by several courses in the faculty. According to the three students, those experiencing Covid-related symptoms often go to class anyway because they don't want to run the risk of being disqualified from the course and consequently delaying their graduation. 

The survey's results were presented in a meeting of the faculty council. The student members called the results "shocking".

During the meeting, dean Marcel van Aken also said that the results were "incredibly worrisome". Partly because of these results, the faculty council decided to address all students once again via e-mail, to make the faculty's policy clear. 

According to the dean, it's crucial that students respect the rules by getting tested or taking a self-test, and staying home if they have any symptoms. If that incurs in any problems related to their studies, they can always talk to their teachers, course coordinators and study advisors to devise a solution.

The study programmes have already informed students that they're going to be more flexible, and that they're willing to come up with alternatives so that sick students don't suffer from any delays in their studies. Van Aken: “We really understand that staying home can create a difficult situation for students, but breaking the rules and infecting other people is never the right way.”

Damaging effects
In the survey, students were also invited to leave comments about the faculty's coronavirus policy. Most respondents talked about the potentially damaging effects the compulsory attendance policy can have, especially considering the lack of opportunities to follow classes online. They also complained about the fact that student forced to follow the class online or through a classmate are being marked as "absent" by some teachers.

Students also indicated that the alternative assignments they're given to make up for their absense are often more difficult than simply attending a class. Others complained about rarely having classes on campus, some aren't even having them at all. According to the students, UU often offers lectures online without exploring the possibility of doing it face to face, with 75 students in the room, first. 

These comments were not discussed by the faculty council. It was clear that the faculty is not willing to abolish compulsory attendance. According to Van Aken, the policy serves to achieve certain learning objectives. “Letting it go would not be fair to the students either.”

Rigid teachers
The student council members appreciate the e-mails sent last week, but wondered whether they are enough, as they still come across many students who do not know who to turn to when they have questions. Some mentioned their own experiences with teachers who are "too rigid".

For example, a student was recently not dismissed from class to attend his grandfather's funeral. After a previous absense because of Covid, the student in question was told that the attendance requirements for that course would not be met if they failed to come to class one more time. According to one of the council members, that student also didn't know where to turn to complan about the situation. 

Vice-dean Leoniek Wijngaards admitted that the example mentioned was very harsh and promised to take the council members' concerns seriously. But she also drew attention to the difficult position in which many teachers find themselves. For example, she heard that the amount of students absent because of Covid-related symptoms is higher in the 9-hour working groups compared to the 11-hour working groups.

“These are things that matter for teachers who would like their students to achieve the learning objectives of their course. But students need to know that they can get help if they need, and they need to know who they can turn to in case of conflict.”