UU study associations angry about ban on introduction camp

Introductie 2019. Foto DUB

“It would be a shame if everything would be allowed again by mid-August, except for the study associations, who wouldn't be able to do anything”. Vidius chairman Stan Liebrand reacts with incomprehension to the Executive Board's decision to do away with the introductory camps.

Last week, the Executive Board informed students about the ban on the intro camp and the intro parties through its Covid update e-mail. According to Liebrand, the associations knew a decision was coming, but were surprised by its contents. After a year of pandemic, they hoped to have a fresh start, carrying out the introduction activities they are familiar with.

It is a drastic measure, says Liebrand, to whom introduction camps are not only of great importance to the bond between the members in an associations, but also to the study programmes themselves. “It is great when students quickly feel at home in their study programmes. That is this type of camp is so important.” 

Different rules for other student associations
Liebrand hears many critical remarks from the Studieverenigingen Overleg (Student Association Consultation, SVO in the Dutch acronym), which Vidius chairs. Students do not understand, for instance, why one hundred students are allowed to sit in a lecture hall during the introduction lectures in September, without keeping a distance of one and a half metres, but they're not allowed to spend the night at an introduction camp.

But the introduction activities carried out by student associations of social nature were not prohibited by UU. In the update, the Executive Board states that it is brainstorming how to organise a safe introduction with these associations. Liebrand: “That creates an imbalance. Soon the members of those associations will have an awesome camp and the study associations will not be able to offer their members anything.”

More freedom
Liebrand also fails to understand the Executive Board's motivation. The board says it would rather have the option of scaling up activities than be forced to scale down later. “But the agreements about the camps were often made a long time ago. You can't do something like that at the last minute”, he complains.

Moreover, most study associations have agreed on clauses allowing them to get their money back if the pandemic worsens, but not if a university Executive Board decides so.

The Vidius chairman thinks that the Executive Board could have given study associations much more freedom to make their own decisions. “It seems premature to us to pin everything down now. Why should the university start enforcing things in advance?”

Vidius intends to write a letter to UU's Executive Board, on behalf of the study associations. DUB approached several study associations to ask them about the consequences of UU's decision, but they did not want to respond or refer back to Vidius.

Difficult risk assessment
UU's Director of Student Affairs Marieke de Bakker says she understands the disappointment. “This is just a very hard pill to swallow.”

According to her, the university wanted to inform introduction camp organisers in time about what they could do regardless of how the situation develops, so that they could base their schedules on that. It has also been agreed with the associations that this would be clarified before the summer.

The UU Executive Board, together with the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, had to make a difficult risk assessment, according to Bakker. UU must comply with both national and local measures, but it is not yet clear what these will look like.

An important starting point was that the Executive Board feels responsible for preventing gatherings where the risk of infection is high. The idea is that there is a greater chance of large gatherings happening during introduction camps and parties organised by study associations than during a meeting in a lecture hall or a building.

De Bakker notes that the rapid relaxation of corona measures makes it increasingly difficult for many students to accept restrictions. “But society is actually not entirely open yet. You are only allowed to go to Lowlands with a test certificate.”

The fact that the municipality of Utrecht only issues issue a permit two weeks before an event, says a lot, according to her. De Bakker emphasises that they are in touch with the municipality and the GGD. “Of course we keep a close eye on the relaxations and continue to consult with the college and the associations about what this will mean for their introductions.”

Special responsibility
Associations are requested to adhere to UU policy as much as possible. But, according to the Director of Student Affairs, the responsibility for the rules that will apply during the introduction period in August lies primarily with the municipality. After all, it's the municipality that issues permits, not UU. 

De Bakker points out that every student can choose whether or not to join a social student association. Membership, on the other hand, is often linked to following a UU study programme. All students should therefore be able to participate in the introduction to such an association. This would also entail a special responsibility for the UU Executive Board.

It remains to be seen whether the introduction activities of the social student associations can take place as planned. The Federation of Utrecht Social Associations, FUG in the Dutch acronym) refrains from commenting. Vice-president Maarten Hoepel says that a lot is still unclear, but the associations want to start discussions with the municipality in the short term.

Stan Liebrand maintains his view that the UU Executive Board can also give study associations more space. “If municipalities approve permits then there is no reason for a university to block that.”

A small consolation for the study associations of the UU study programmes is that beers may be consumed during the activities that can take place. Utrecht University of Applied Sciences will not permit alcohol during study programmes’ introductions, but the university does not want such a ban.