At the start of the current academic year, outgoing Minister for Education Ingrid van Engelshoven promised that higher education institutions would not be closed again. The Cabinet has now broken that promise and applied the emergency brake.
For the time being, staff and students will not be able to come to campus. However, just like in previous lockdowns, exceptions will be made for vulnerable students and certain types of practicals. Furthermore, exams and assessments will continue to be sat on campus, and the various institutions’ libraries will continue to be open as well.
Adri Meijdam, the programme coordinator of the bachelor degree in International Business Administration, has announced that his department’s exams will be held as usual this week. “Of course we listened to the press conference very attentively. In the end, it was crystal clear: classes taught on campus must stop and be replaced with online alternatives, but in-person exams do not have to be replaced with online exams.”
A quick survey showed that PhD students will be able to defend their theses on the EUR campus this week. Gita Gadjri, a receptionist at the ISS, confirmed this on Monday. “We now close our doors at 5pm, as required, but to the best of our current knowledge, vivas can go on as scheduled, says the director. In fact, we’ll have one tomorrow afternoon.”
Originally, the Cabinet did not wish to impose stricter rules. Even social distancing rules did not apply to the higher education sector. The only real restriction imposed was a cap on the number of students allowed to be inside a lecture theatre at any given time: 75.
So now we have a new lockdown. Even though the two nationwide student organisations LSVb and ISO understand why the lockdown was imposed, they are not happy about it. “Young adults’ mental health has come under enormous strain due to the pandemic,” said Ama Boahene, the President of the National Student Union (LSVb). “Now that there are no in-person classes, more young adults will be facing loneliness and mental health problems.”
“The closure of higher education institutions has been an unpleasant surprise for us. We were hoping we’d be able to finish the year off with in-person classes, these last few days before the Christmas break,” said Lisanne de Roos, the President of the Intercity Students’ Organisation (ISO). “But we’re holding on to the idea that if we get this over and done with now, we’ll be able to have in-person classes again after the Christmas break.”
The universities and universities of applied sciences responded the same way. “This news will be devastating to our students, lecturers and other employees,” said Maurice Limmen, the Chair of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. “In the last few months we have always focused on the importance of in-person classes because we know how vital they are to our students’ mental health. So we hope with all our hearts that this situation won’t last long.”
“This has been a great blow for our staff and students, as it has been for everyone in the Netherlands,” said Pieter Duisenberg, the Chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, “but we obviously respect the Cabinet’s decision. Thankfully, we will be able to administer exams on campus, and the university libraries will remain open.”
The Cabinet hopes to give as many people as possible a booster shot, i.e. a third dose of the vaccine. Jaap van Dissel (Director of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment’s Centre of Infectious Disease Control) said during the press conference that such a third dose would help protect people from the coronavirus pandemic better.
The experts on the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) advised the Cabinet to impose a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading at an alarming rate.
The Cabinet accepted the recommendation. It is not yet known how dangerous the new variant is, but the Cabinet is keen to prevent hospitals and intensive care units from coming under tremendous strain.
There is a possibility that schools and higher education institutions may be able to open their doors again on 10 January, after the Christmas break. The Cabinet will make its decision on this on 3 January. Other parts of Dutch society will continue to be closed until 14 January.