In its press conference of 18 June, the government announced that universities can prepare themselves to abolish the 1.5-metre distance measure for staff and students in higher education from 16 August. On 13 August, the government will make a final decision on this. Pieter Duisenberg, VSNU president: ‘It is very good news that virtually all the coronavirus restrictions for higher education would be abolished. As a result, first-year students can still enjoy their orientation weeks and we can look forward to a new academic year without restrictions. The pandemic has shown that the academic community is present everywhere, but especially that social contact is essential for academic education.’
Universities and degree programmes will inform their own students and staff how they will organise the reopening in practice.
As a result of the 1.5-metre measure, significantly fewer students were able to physically come to the university than before the pandemic. If the development of the pandemic allows it, students will once again be able to attend education without restrictions in the new academic year. The government has asked universities to also prepare a fallback-option with 1.5-metre distance measure. Students and staff are recommended to use the self-tests that are freely available to them, especially when they return from their vacations abroad. Also, the more people are vaccinated, the higher the change that the 1.5-metre distance measure will be abolished in the new academic year.
The abolishment of the 1.5-metre distance measure also applies on education-related activities in the orientation period. The social introduction activities of student associations are governed by the regime applicable to the type of meeting or event in question.
Over the past 18 months, universities, staff and students have gained a great deal of experience in digital and hybrid education. Across the board, study progress has remained stable after the switch to distance learning; a major achievement by lecturers and students alike. Universities will be taking the good elements of this with them into the future with a view to further improving their education. Examples include restructuring the teaching in the form of blended programmes and more intensive technical and didactic support for lecturers when designing their teaching.
The pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of fundamental university research. Duisenberg: ‘The fact that we are now almost done with the coronavirus restrictions is largely due to research that has been done by scientists from all disciplines, some of whom are Dutch. And the fact that we can now open up because our scientists laid the foundations for the coronavirus vaccines many years ago is, of course, very special. It reinforces our plea that the next government should invest in fundamental research. Among others, thanks to science, we are emerging from the pandemic.’