Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord was outspoken about this on Monday. In the NRC newspaper, she called the introduction of the coronavirus entry pass ‘not proportional’ and an obstacle to education, which is an essential service. In her opinion, a more balanced consideration needs to be given to student welfare compared with risk of infection among students. She made her comments in response to an emergency law that would enable the mandatory introduction of a coronavirus entry pass in educational institutions.
The university boards prefer not to have to make a choice between a lockdown and introducing the coronavirus entry pass, which will physically exclude some students from education. However, this choice may soon need to be made. And, according to the people we interviewed, if the pass is introduced it can be done relatively easily.
According to virologist Marion Koopmans, discussions are currently taking place within the OMT on whether the coronavirus entry pass should be introduced in higher education. It’s clear from the amount of discussion that the coronavirus entry pass is considered to be a drastic measure.
Roland Bal, professor of Healthcare Governance, also emphasised this. “If you want to introduce something like this, you need to first ask yourself why you want to do this. What result will it have? You need to consider that carefully. Currently, some 50 per cent of students have psychological issues related to study stress and loneliness, while it has not been demonstrated that students form a greater risk factor in terms of an increase in the number of infections.”
Apart from the fact that Bal doubts the usefulness of introducing the pass, he does not understand the cabinet wanting to deny employee representation from having a say in the introduction of the new rule. “Universities are the best places to find people who can really think about these issues. If you’re going to restrict the right to education, university employees should also be given a say in this.”
According to professor of Health Law Martin Buijsen, it won’t come to that. “I do think that the VSNU will be consulted before the emergency measure comes into force, but if it is introduced, then universities will simply have to comply.” However, he does consider education to be an essential service and that this should be taken into account. “Education is not something like a shop; it’s like healthcare, and you can’t just exclude somebody from that. The disadvantages are simply too huge.”
Apart from the question of whether the pass is desirable, the introduction of a mandatory coronavirus entry pass is facing very few obstacles. Bal added: “In a practical sense, it’s no problem. Just like every large institution, you reduce the number of entrances, install barriers, ask stewards to man the doors and you’re done.”
In legal terms, the introduction of the pass can also be arranged quickly, according to Buijsen. “Such a law does clash with the basic right to education, but the justification for introducing an emergency law is there. If the emergency law is approved in the House of Representatives and the Senate, it could be implemented within a few weeks. But by then it must be clear that the law will be effective.”
Paul Zoontjens, Professor of Educational Law at Tilburg University, thinks that it’s already clear that the law will be useful. “There are good arguments for why a mandatory pass is necessary. Unvaccinated people are 33 per cent more likely to end up in intensive care, and we don’t want to burden our healthcare system any more than we do now.”
Zoontjens also sees no legal obstacles. “The obstacles are less significant now than for last year’s lockdown. Then the right to education was partially interrupted for everyone. Now the interruption only applies to some. Although that is discrimination, this always happens with such changes in law. The question is whether this is admissible, and that can be justified in the name of healthcare and the right to healthcare.”
Although there are few legal obstacles in the way of the arrival of a coronavirus pass at the university, students and staff who do not agree with the law can challenge the decision. But Buijsen thinks there’s little point. “According to article 8 of the Constitution, the personal lives of each citizen must be safeguarded, and the temporary law and its enforcement can be challenged on this basis.”
People who want to challenge the law will have little chance of success, continued Buijsen. “The European Court in Strasbourg has actually decided that introducing the temporary law and regulations is justified, as this protects public health. Dutch judges will probably give that more weighting than a violation of article 8.”