UU Executive Board: ‘We prefer the Covid pass over online education’

Read the original in Dutch by Gwenda Knobel here.

If Utrecht University had to choose between online education and demanding students to show their Covid pass to be granted access to classes on campus, it would go for the latter. “We’re proposing to conduct random checks. If we had to perform checks in each building, that would be a bit of a problem,” said UU President Anton Pijpers in a meeting with the University Council.

Better to go for the Covid pass than to go back to online education. Anton Pijpers was clear about what the university’s choice will be if the Dutch government makes the Covid pass mandatory for higher education institutions. “The question we’re asking ourselves is how we can keep education open for as many students as possible. So far, we’ve been saying that we don’t want to require the Covid pass for educational activities, but if the government decides to do it, and we must choose between online education and education on location with a Covid pass, then we’ll go for the latter.”

The question is whether co-determination bodies will have a say in that regard. According to Pijpers, the government would prefer not to include such a voting in the decision-making process, so universities would be forced to implement the pass. But UU’s president promised the council that the Executive Board is going to consult them about it. The possibility of adopting the Covid pass in higher education institutions came up in the latest press conference by the Dutch Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, held on Friday, November 12. The outgoing Minister of Health, Hugo De Jonge, said he would like universities to implement the pass if the amount of coronavirus transmissions keeps on rising, putting the health system under pressure. That way, universities wouldn’t have to go back to teaching exclusively online.

Graduation ceremonies allowed
The University Council meeting from Monday, November 15, made it clear that some points of the “corona update” e-mail, sent by the university to all students and employees right after the press conference, had to be clarified. The e-mail was sent hastily because the new block of classes would start on Monday. That’s why the lectures scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were cancelled, because universities are no longer allowed to have more than 75 students gathered in the same lecture hall. The decision was made so that people wouldn’t wonder if their lectures would go on or not, explained the Executive Board.

Some teachers who were supposed to hold lectures to less than 75 students got in touch with the university following the update. Last weekend, they heard that they were allowed to come to campus to teach, provided that they could reach their students in time.

The same question was raised about graduation ceremonies with less than 75 guests. They can go on as planned, but those attending ceremonies in the Academy building must observe a distance of 1.5 metres from each other. Study associations also have a lot of questions: they would like to know which activities can be carried out and which ones can’t. The Executive Board will discuss the new measures this Tuesday (16), in order to clarify things. Study associations can therefore expect to get some answers soon. 

Tutorials online as well?
But there are still a few more loose ends. The council fears, for example, that not only lectures but tutorials will have to go online as well. One of the council members, Gert Folkers, heard that a number of tutorials were scheduled after lectures, so students will not be able to attend tutorials on campus on time. “Therefore, I’m afraid the tutorials will also be given online, even though this isn’t good for students’ mental health, as per recent research

“We want as many educational activities as possible to take place on campus”, said UU’s Rector Henk Kummeling. “We asked the schedulers to organise as many classes as possible on location, taking into account the conditions currently in place and the possibilities we have. The schedule goes, in any case, up until Christmas. As for taking travel time into consideration, we have to take some time to evaluate the possibilities.”