Higher education to remain in lockdown

Two weeks ago, students protested on the Jaarbeurs square, asking for their isolation to end. Photo: DUB

Despite students' protests, the higher education sector is not going to reopen anytime soon. The Dutch government decided at a meeting held this weekend that universities and universities of applied sciences must remain in lockdown.

The national curfew will also remain in place, and bars and restaurants will not be allowed to open their pavement cafés. The reason is simple: the number of Covid infections has risen once again to a "very serious" level and more patients are being admitted to the hospital.

The government is unwilling to relax the current restrictions until most people over the age of 60 have been vaccinated, which is not expected until early May.

The universities are not happy at all about the decision, as they believe students can safely return to campus once a week for classes, a position restated in a radio interview by Pieter Duisenberg, President of the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU in the Dutch acronym).

“I do understand the measure. At least it’s consistent”, declared Duisenberg about the government’s decision. But he went on to emphasise the difficulties students are facing. “For their mental well-being, this isn't good news at all”.

Students at vocational colleges (MBO) are allowed to return to the classroom once a week, which is why Duisenberg sees no reason why this shouldn’t apply to higher education too. Especially considering that there were no significant Covid outbreaks at universities during earlier stages of the pandemic. “From an educational perspective, my message to the government is: please take that risk. After all, we have already proven that we can manage these situations in a highly controlled way”.

Duisenberg revealed that a full range of plans is already in place to enable universities to open in the coming academic year. But he hopes that they will be given more leeway before the current academic year is over. “That would be better than having to wait to do everything after the summer”.

Utrecht University is a good example. UU's coronavirus commission has recently published an advice note saying that most educational and research activities can go back to normal in the next academic year. But that doesn't mean the University should wait until September to provide students and staff with more opportunities to meet face to face.

Press conference
These decisions were announced informally after weekend consultations at the Catshuis, the Prime Minister’s official residence. We have to wait until tonight to know whether they will be announced in the press conference.

At the previous press conference, the ministers hinted that higher education might see some restrictions being lifted or eased over the Easter weekend, but that no longer seems to be on the cards.

Tags: coronavirus