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Without in-person education, students' mental health is bound to worsen

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The Dutch government is supposed to decide this week whether or not to soften the lockdown. Law student Hugo Wagenmakers, urges the cabinet not to forget about university students, for whom, in his view, it is necessary to reopen higher education institutions and allow for classes to take place on campus.

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These past few weeks, I've been getting more and more bothered at how easily higher education institutions are being closed, in comparison to primary and secondary education, whose doors are allowed to reopen much faster, while universities remain shut. Higher education is the victim of the coronavirus policy. Let's hope that Mark Rutte's fourth cabinet takes university students more into account. It's awful to see so many people my age struggling with mental health issues more and more. The coronavirus policy must take a look at the consequences of shutting down universities.

Faultering internet connection
For me and many other people my age, pursuing a degree through a screen is incredibly demotivating. Before the pandemic, I didn't mind missing a class or two, but now I'm longing for classes on campus. After all, the lessons simply come across better if there's an enthusiastic teacher standing in front of the class, telling us about their field. Having to deal with a faultering Internet connection, microphones and cameras that sometimes do not work, and – most importantly – the horrible way of communication that are online classes... That's getting more and more terrible. Of course I'm glad that we at least have online classes, because that's better than nothing. It's also not true that we're on our own all of the sudden, because the teachers do help us when we need. But even so, I find myself longing for classes on campus more than ever.

Since 2020, the government and society have been telling us students what to do. Good as we are, we've been doing what's expected of us. Right now, it looks like the potential doomsday scenarios the Outbreak Management Team (OMT, the team of experts advising the Dutch government on how to tackle the pandemic, Ed.) predicted about the progression of the pandemic are fortunately not going to materialise. In addition, it's also clear that, from all age groups, young adults are the ones harmed the least by the coronavirus. I myself then wonder why higher education institutions remain closed. Primary and secondary schools are allowed to remain open, so to me it seems obvious that universities can and should be open as well. A lot of students are sick and tired of following online classes, which is evidenced by the deterioration of students' mental health.

Graduation delay
If there's something a person needs more than anything else in life, is a goal to pursue. For many students, that goal is completing their studies. Because of the current coronavirus policy, a considerable number of students are having to graduate later than expected, which also doesn't help their mental health. Once again, help is being offered in the form of coaches or a less strict binding study advice (BSA), but what really helps students is having classes face to face.

The new cabinet should come up with a better plan to make sure that students can finally follow classes on campus without being interrupted by lockdowns. I understand that there are important things at play in a public health crisis and that tough considerations must be made. However, I think there's no conclusion possible other than allowing in-person classes to go on. My appeal to the cabinet is therefore to please no longer ignore the students and to ensure that we too can have a better student life without too many interruptions.

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