Out of Online School
By Diana-Teodora Gaitan| July 20, 2021
Cover Illustration: Student sitting at desk, taking notes from online lecture. Divyashree Muruganandam, The Amsterdammer
Magazine reporter Diana Gaitan discusses the implications of students returning to campus education in the Netherlands, where COVID-19 infections are rising once again.
At the beginning of June 2021, the University of Amsterdam sent students an email announcing an optimistic prognostic for education in the new academic year. The message does not explicitly state that students will need to physically attend classes again, yet the university confirms it is “operating under the assumption that from September, teaching will take place on campus”.
On the student website of the Humanities’ Faculty, the university’s hopeful scenario was posted with descriptions about everyday activities back on campus. A lack of social distancing and a limitless number of persons attending exams are two of the features imagined by the university for next year. Physical attendance would also be required again, with an exception for “foreign students who are unable to attend due to international travel restrictions”.
While some students are eager to walk back to school every day, others are rightfully concerned about this return to a “normal” life. Although the statements made by the university have a hypothetical nuance, frequently implying that decisions depend on how the health crisis unfolds, I am still surprised that universities in the Netherlands, out of all countries, are already envisioning such optimistic scenarios.
Up until recently, the Netherlands featured on the red list in my home country Romania, meaning that all travel was strongly discouraged; other countries still ban this destination for travelers. Throughout the past months, media reports have described the health crisis in the Netherlands as being, at times, the worst in Europe. The lowering infection rate in June was fueling optimistic outlooks for September, but in July, the infections are once again increasing. With that said, better numbers are not equivalent with the pandemic being over. Some World Health Organization specialists are forecasting a new wave of infections this Fall, when students are expected to return to campus.
The guidelines provided by the UvACare are backed by directives of the Dutch Government, which strives to bring education back to normal. Yet, when we speak of Amsterdam, the stakes of giving up online education are much higher than in other Dutch cities. A housing crisis in addition to the health crisis is likely to happen. Finding student accommodation in Amsterdam takes months in normal conditions, but imagine thousands of students returning at the exact same moment with the same housing demands. The issues linked with going back on campus are numerous, the most obvious being the hundreds of students from countries with various infection rates flocking back to Amsterdam on crowded planes.
Valentina, a third-year student at the UvA, has created an Instagram page where she publishes testimonies of students who would be seriously affected by a return to campus education in September. The desire to keep online education an option is not an unpopular opinion, but a clear necessity for students in the next academic year. Besides the contributors to the Instagram page, students of the Faculty of Communication Science were up until now the only ones who could express their opinions about online education for the next year, by completing a survey sent out by the Faculty.
The University of Amsterdam must urgently decide whether taking the next year online will be allowed for all students. Urgently, because thousands of students need to have a clear outlook of what their life will be like in a couple of months. The university also has a responsibility to give a fair chance to education for its international students (which amounted to approximately 10.900 students in 2020-2021). The academic year of 2021-2022 must be a bridge between a global crisis and a “normal life”, at a time where we are barely stepping out of the crisis.