For a long time, it wasn’t clear how education would be organised from September on. Last week, a letter sent by Minister Van Engelshoven sent to the sector shed some light on this matter. Although this has failed to satisfy some: the institutions are still required to prepare two different scenarios. In a nutshell: one scenario where students and staff need to maintain the 1.5-m rule, and one where they don’t. Because there’s still a risk of new outbreaks. On 13 August – only a few days before Eurekaweek – the minister will be announcing which scenario will be adopted.
A student at Erasmus University is currently campaigning to get all education activities offline by 1 September. What’s the chance of this happening, in your view?
“I’m not a fortune teller. What we’ve said to the higher education sector is: prepare for a scenario in which the social distancing rule is dropped from mid-August on. But we’ve also said: also take a scenario into account where this has proven impossible. Right now, you can see a surge in Delta variant cases across Europe, and we don’t know how it will be landing in the Netherlands.
“One thing that’s particularly important – which is also what I’d like to say to this student – is that everyone, including students, should have themselves tested after going on holiday. And if the results come back positive: report to your Municipal Health Service (GGD), quarantine yourself, stick to these measures. Exercising due caution as we enter the holiday period is the only way to ensure that our preferred scenario – the one without social distancing – may possibly go ahead.”
EUR student sends letter to House of Representatives for campaign #1septemberoffline
Student Pauline Wiersema wants higher education to be offline as far as possible from 1…
Are you concerned about the Delta variant, combined with students and prospective students’ plans to throw parties and take graduation trips? Or would you sooner say to them: enjoy it while it lasts?
“I’m also aware of what young people have gone through, so of course I wish them a great summer. But I also urge them to stay careful. After all, doing a self-test before immersing yourself in Dutch society again isn’t that big of an effort. The tests are provided free of charge and we have plenty to spare. By testing yourself, you can save everyone around you, yourself and the education sector a lot of misery. I’m confident that if we do this, we can look forward to a wonderful academic year.”
According to lecturers, you’ll be picking a scenario at the eleventh hour, waiting until 13 August. This means they’ll have to spend the summer elaborating both scenarios: a lot of work. And they’ve had a very busy year as it is. Do you understand their reservations? Could you perhaps meet them halfway by offering some kind of direction before then?
“I completely understand why these lecturers feel embattled. And personally, I’d love to be able to give them more certainty, and say: next year, we’ll be doing it this and that way. But we need to stay realistic. The Outbreak Management Team has warned us of possible setbacks. Which is why we’ve told the sector: prepare for a relaxation of the 1.5-m rule, but also keep half an eye on other unforeseen scenarios.
As of 1 September everyone will go back to campus, the question remains how
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“I won’t be able to make any definite statements until 13 August, but of course I’ll be keeping an ear to the ground over the next few weeks. And rest assured: if trends don’t look good, I won’t hesitate to give the education sector a head’s up. When push comes to shove, I am confident that lecturers will be able to quickly shift gears. They’ve proven as much over the past year.”
In your letter, you write that the scenario adopted on 13 August will have a particularly strong impact on education-related activities during the orientation period. But what about student parties and everything involved? Can organising committees already take any decisions in this area? Will they be allowed to throw parties for students who can present a negative test result at the door – as other venues are already doing?
“Yes, they will. Activities that don’t relate to education are subject to the same rules as other public events in the city. The organisers will need to make the necessary agreements in close consultation with the mayor and local authorities.”