Higher Education to reopen, institutions scrambling to find space

The Government has given the green light for higher education to ‘reopen’. While lectures will still be taught online for the time being, institutions are doing their best to make small-scale meetings on campus possible again. In a corona update that the Executive Board of TU/e made public this morning it was announced what will be possible again on-campus from the 26th of April.

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On Tuesday evening, outgoing Prime Minister Rutte referred to his plans to relax a number of lockdown measures as ‘a first step’. Universities and universities of applied sciences will be allowed to open their doors to more students again for in-person education starting Monday.

But will they have enough time to prepare? The caretaker cabinet waited until the last moment to approve the reopening, and 26 April is only a couple of days away. Moreover, space will be limited, as students will still be required to observe social distancing.

Schedules are ready

In the corona update that the Executive Board of TU/e send in a email this morning it announces that from the 26th of April more on-campus education will be possible. The Q4 schedules are ready on Canvas to check out for students to see which of their courses are being taught on campus. From the 10th of May there will also be more room for employees to work on campus. Starting from that date, all employees who wish to work on campus, are welcome to do so for one day a week, provided that the corona measures continue to allow this. The opening hours for the different TU/e buildings will also be extended from this day onwards. With these relaxations the university wants to go back to the situation as it was experienced in the period September-November 2020 (before the third lockdown).

Other additional activities that are important for more contact with fellow students, will also be made possible on-campus from the 28th of April. Like the possibility to reserve study places and spaces for studying together with the use of Book-My-Space; graduation ceremonies are allowed based on a walk-through with two guests and a short speech; promotional sessions in hybrid form can be held again in the presence of guests and the room determines the maximum capacity. Lunch lectures from study associations are allowed, and here the room also determines the maximum capacity.

Outdoor drinks are possible at the yellow picnic tables in accordance with the government guidelines for terraces. That means it ends after 6 PM at the latest, a maximum of fifty people is allowed to participate in it, and a maximum of two people are sitting at a table and a health check in advance and reservation in advance or on the spot is mandatory. The boardrooms of the associations may also be used again, in accordance with the corona setup. The Student Sports Center (SSC) is working on sports opportunities for the associations. For the latest information, visit the SSC website.

Case-by-case approach

The news came as a great relief for Utrecht University’s schedulers, as they had already drawn up plans to accommodate more face-to-face classes again starting 26 April, DUB reports. Delft University of Technology will also invite more students back to campus for self-study, group work and in-person education.

Still, the timing of this reopening – right before King’s Day – is not ideal. Tilburg University will not be opening its doors until 28 April, as it had not planned any classes for Monday before Rutte’s announcement. The same goes for the University of Amsterdam, where each programme will be able to allocate the space at its disposal as it sees fit.

Maastricht University is also taking a case-by-case approach. “The faculties will assess the possibilities themselves – they have a better sense of the situation on the ground, so to speak”, says spokesperson Koen Augustijn. “A lot will depend on building capacity and the type of education provided at each faculty.”

International students

Moreover, institutions can’t suddenly require their students to come to class again as they did before Covid. As long as the pandemic continues, many students will be hesitant to return to campus. And what about all the international students who went back home? They can’t be expected to just pack up and fly to the Netherlands – and even if they could, they would still face travel restrictions.

This certainly plays a role at Maastricht University, which has a highly international student population. During a round table last month, Rector Rianne Letschert said that the university would have to continue offering online education to these students at least until the summer.

One thing is clear: reopening is easier said than done. That’s why some universities are giving themselves a little more time. At Radboud University Nijmegen, face-to-face education will not resume until after the May holidays. Wageningen University is taking the same approach.

Scaling up

The universities of applied sciences seem to be a bit further along, as they were allowed to continue offering practical education over the past few months. “We’re not so much reopening – we’re just scaling up”, says spokesperson Jeroen Jongeling of the institutions’ umbrella organisation.

The goal now is to return to the way things were before the mid-December lockdown. “We’re not receiving any signals from our members that they’re planning to start scaling up later. We’re mostly seeing a lot of relief and joy.”

This is certainly the case at Ede’s Christian University of Applied Sciences, which sent out a press release only an hour after the cabinet’s announcement on Tuesday evening: students would be able to attend some of their classes in person again as of Monday.

More free periods

Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences is also ready to reopen on 26 April, and every institution has its own plan, President of the Board Ron Bormans reports. Face-to-face education may look different for each student. This will depend, for instance, on how far along they are in their studies.

The scheduling department at Fontys isn’t exactly sitting still either, local student magazine Bronwrites. In addition to cramming in as many educational activities as possible, they’re also trying to schedule some extra free periods so students can spend time together outside of class. But even “idle hours” require planning these days, to ensure that there are enough available classrooms and other facilities.

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