Campus reporter Rebecca Jacoby discusses the newly implemented COVID-19 restrictions in the Netherlands and the effects they have on higher education.
2 waves of restrictions and measures later, classes continue on campus… but how does that make the students feel?
On Nov. 13, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, announced a three week partial lockdown due to the record breaking number of COVID cases the country saw in a single day. Just one day prior, the cases skyrocketed to 16,000, surpassing December 2020’s previous record of 13,000. These newly introduced measures included the closing of bars, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs at 8 p.m. as well as barring spectators from major sporting events and reintroducing the 1.5 meter distancing rule for indoor spaces. As for higher education, lectures where the number of attendees surpassed 75 people required sign-ups to ensure the 1.5 meter distancing rule was maintained. The University of Amsterdam (UvA) continued to recommend that students self-test twice a week and stay home if they exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. Two weeks in, another press conference was held to announce the further tightening of restrictions. The seven day average of cases at this point reached over 22,000, prompting the government to reevaluate the situation a week earlier than planned and decide on further measures. The closing time for the public sector was moved to 5 p.m. and the lockdown was extended until Dec. 18.
These two stages of the lockdown have had a minimal impact on university life thus far. Exams with over 75 students are still exempt from the rules limiting group size and universities are allowed to remain open until the late evening despite the 5 p.m. closure rule. Despite the initial excitement about returning to on-campus teaching after 18 months online, many students have expressed their dismay at the university’s insistence on in-person exams, specifically exams scheduled on the days leading up to Christmas. The complaints are centered around both the potential risks of in-person exams and the difficulties this causes for students who plan to fly home to far away countries. This post submitted to the Instagram page @happenings2.0, a place for UvA students to submit anonymous confessions about various aspects of student life, asks students to fill out a Google Doc form to support having the final exams in December moved online. The submission states: “really don’t wanna go to those busy exam hall (sic) and maybe get COVID.” The UvA is not the only university where students are petitioning to have an online option for exams; the Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam students also recently circulated a petition calling for a provision of similar opportunities. Many students believe that with the emergence of the Omicron variant, which according to the World Health Organization poses a higher risk of infection, adjustments need to be made to the UvA’s policies in order to ensure student safety.
It is currently unclear whether the UvA will change its current policy or whether Dec. 18 will see new restrictions on group size, making in-person exams impossible. Universities around the world have implemented different measures to keep students safe, with the Humboldt University in Berlin implementing the 3G rule requiring students to show proof of vaccination, recovery or testing, and maintain distance in classrooms as well as wear masks even while seated. The Dutch government is currently considering implementing a 2G system for many public activities, which would only allow people with proof of vaccination or proof of recovery to enter. However, it is still uncertain whether this will pass due to many members of parliament arguing against it. An access pass may also be implemented in Dutch higher education, but “universities, colleges, vocational schools, and student organizations are all against imposing [it],” calling it, “fundamentally and practically impossible”.