But higher education institutions do not have to close their doors and social distancing is not compulsory in education. The only new rule is that no more than 75 students may gather in one room at the same time. Exams are an exception to that.
The measures are valid until at least Saturday 4 December but the government expects that the battle against the virus will not be over by then. The ministers want Covid passes (i.e. the QR codes) to be used in more places.
“It has to be made possible for Covid passes to be used in higher education, but only if there is no alternative”, said De Jonge. “In other words, only if the situation became so bad that online teaching would be the only option.”
The use of Covid passes in higher education has already been enabled in temporary legislation. The House of Representatives has to debate it and employee participation bodies also play a role, so it would take several weeks to introduce.
People in higher education have expressed understanding for the measures. Pieter Duisenberg, president of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands VSNU: “Although popular lectures will once again have to be given online, it’s good that most teaching can still go ahead. Face-to-face teaching is extremely important for the well-being of our students, who suffered greatly from stress, loneliness and anxiety during the previous period of restrictions.”
Universities have been able to carry out face-to-face teaching safely, Duisenberg adds. “There haven’t been any major outbreaks and surveys have shown us that the vaccination rate among our lecturers and students is high.”
The Dutch National Students’ Association also understands the measures, says association chair Lisanne de Roos. “By definition, all measures are disappointing but fortunately face-to-face teaching is still possible. This is manageable. It’s in proportion.”
But De Roos calls what the government aims to do with the Covid pass in education “extra nerve-racking”. “I’m certainly concerned about it because everything is happening so fast. I hope that it isn’t at the expense of due care.”
The Dutch Student Union feels the maximum group size is regrettable, says chair Ama Boahene, because some teaching will once again have to take place online. “At the same time, the measure is better than it might have been, and it’s understandable too. I hope that it really is only for three weeks.”
She has more reservations about the possible use of Covid passes. “That is very serious because a Covid pass is a huge restriction. Access to education would then be denied to some of the students. Education needs to remain open and not subject to a Covid pass. There is absolutely no evidence that higher education is a source of Covid-19 infection. And among students the vaccination rate is already very high.”