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Information on the coronavirus in relation to universities

Information on the coronavirus in relation to universities

Coronavirus update 8 April: solutions with regard to transferring from Bachelor's to Master's programmes, applications for degree programmes with an enrolment quota and problems in relation to PhD candidates
Following consultations with the VSNU and other parties, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science today published an update to its service document about the impact of the coronavirus on higher education. In response to this document and other developments, we hereby announce the following:

Solutions with regard to transferring from Bachelor's to Master's programmes
Some third-year students and pre-Master's students are having trouble completing their Bachelor's programmes as a result of the current coronavirus measures. These problems are leading to other issues when it comes to the transfer of these students to Master's programmes. As a result of the 'clean break' between Bachelor's and Master's programmes, students may generally not start a Master's programme until they have completed their Bachelor's programme. In view of the current exceptional circumstances, the universities are now seeking to address this situation and minimise study completion delays incurred during the transfer from Bachelor's to Master's programmes due to coronavirus measures.

As a result of the large number and diversity of universities, degree programmes and potential interfaces between Bachelor's and Master's programmes, a one-size-fits-all solution is not feasible. Potential measures could include the introduction of an additional entry date or a decision to admit students on the proviso that they complete their Bachelor's programmes by a specific date. All universities must have explained the conditions for enrolment in the 2020–2021 academic year to prospective students for each postgraduate Master's programme by 15 May.

Option to raise the enrolment quota
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the group of Dutch and international students that applies for a degree programme with an enrolment quota but ultimately fails to start the programme is expected to be larger than usual. In response to this expected development, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will allow institutions to issue more placement certificates for degree programmes with an enrolment quota than the available capacity would permit. This will help universities to ensure that the available capacity is utilised effectively, even if national and international intake levels decline.

Language tests
Students from outside of the EEA are often required to pass an English-language test before they can be enrolled. Due to the coronavirus crisis, a limited number of non-EEA students are currently unable to sit a language test at an official testing site. As before, however, these students must attain adequate English-language skills before starting a degree programme in order to prevent issues regarding study progress and to safeguard the quality of the programme. For this reason, the universities will continue to require that prospective students pass an English-language test. Under the terms of a recent agreement with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, universities may now use online versions of existing tests to ensure that all prospective students complete their language test on time.

Delays to research projects: research institutions are working on solutions
Numerous research projects have shut down as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Researchers have lost access to labs and collections, are unable to gather data, or are spending their time working in hospitals. This is having a major impact on the Dutch research community. Researchers with temporary contracts are especially at risk. The VSNU, NFU, NWO and ZonMw are extremely concerned about these signals and are working with the PhD Network of the Netherlands and PostDocNL to find solutions to the issues and concerns experienced by these – often young – researchers.


These solutions are based around three guiding principles. Firstly: health is more important than research. Deans and institution directors are responsible for deciding which types of research require actual physical presence at research facilities, and which types of research should continue despite the current circumstances. They take these decisions on the basis of recommendations from the research group leader and RIVM guidelines. The deans and institution directors serve as initial points of contact for staff in unclear cases or in situations where a research project has been wrongfully designated as essential. The second guiding principle dictates that researchers should reasonably be able to complete any research projects that have run into problems or been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis at a later time. The third principle specifies that the diversity of problems cannot be addressed through any single one-size-fits-all solution. The research organisations have called for appropriate measures to ensure that research projects can be completed: the adjustment of procedures for pursuing a doctorate, additional time/money in the event of delayed research projects, the adjustment of research plans etc. The form these measures ultimately take in practice will depend on the relevant source of funding and the agreements concluded with that source. In response to the current exceptional circumstances, the research organisations have also called for a broader, more lenient approach to the 'recognition and valuation' of individual contributions, in line with the position paper 'Room for everyone's talent'.


The universities and other research organisations are currently discussing various urgent areas for attention with the Ministries of Education, Culture and Science, of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, of Social Affairs and Employment and of Health, Welfare and Sport. Topics under discussion include the costs of further delays, the options for extending research and post-doctoral research contracts beyond the current four-year period or extending more than two appointments, and the options for extending residence permits for international staff on a temporary employment contract that is set to expire in the short term. The organisations are also seeking support for custom solutions from other sources of funding, such as businesses and international grant providers such as the EU.


Click here to read the joint statement of NFU, the VSNU, ZonMw en NWO.

Online doctorates
All universities are currently organising online doctoral thesis defence ceremonies, ensuring that students can obtain their doctorate without any further delays. Find out how PhD candidate Martine Kox of Radboud University defended her PhD thesis from behind her laptop and received a degree certificate from her supervisor in her very own garden. Naturally, there are plenty of other examples from other universities. You can find these on our Twitter account.

Online exams
Many university degree programmes have been administering online exams over the past two weeks. A case in point is TU Delft, which also created a handbook on administering oral exams online.

School-leaving examinations
Today saw Minister Slob send a letter to the House of Representatives on adjustments to the pass-fail regulation in connection with the recent cancellation of school-leaving examinations. As reported last week, the universities support the decision to cancel all school-leaving examinations. The current adjustments to the pass-fail regulation and the Minister's stated commitment to monitoring pass rates and results will help safeguard the quality of the secondary school diploma. This will be of crucial importance to prospective students who are about to graduate from secondary school.
Effective orientation on degree programmes will remain crucial to students who could now potentially transfer to a degree programme earlier than expected. The universities will strive to facilitate this orientation process as effectively as possible, applying remote solutions where necessary. Prospective students should thus make sure to apply on time – preferably before 1 May – in order to take part in matching activities.
 

 


 

Coronavirus update; 1 April 2020: new government measures, building use, decentralised selection, final exams


Yesterday evening, the government and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) announced new measures designed to combat coronavirus. 


Based on the new government measures, any education that requires physical attendance will not be possible until after 28 April 2020 at the very earliest. The universities have stated that they will, in principle, provide remote education for the foreseeable future; see the announcements issued by the various institutions for more information. If government measures are relaxed in the meantime, universities will consider which teaching activities that require physical attendance they will be able to offer.


At this stage, the universities are doing their utmost to facilitate remote education, and have been successful in doing so for the majority of degree programmes. So, we are pleased to say that our students will be able to continue their education uninterrupted, even in these extraordinary times. Although many challenges lie ahead, such as for assessments and examinations, we are making great strides, together and in close collaboration with SURF. 


See this Twitter link and the VSNU homepage for a whole range of interesting initiatives.


The following updates are also necessary on behalf of the collaborating universities:

  • The following will continue to apply in relation to the building use up to and including 28 April 2020 at the very earliest: staff, students, lecturers and researchers are to work from home. Although the RIVM guidelines are decisive, exceptions are possible for critical processes in a number of cases. For example: to look after laboratory animals and continue with long-term research and test setups. There are also a number of exceptional situations in which students and staff will be permitted to enter buildings, in consultation with the institution: for example, research that contributes to the fight against coronavirus will be facilitated as much as possible, with due observance of the safety guidelines. Appropriate safety measures will be taken in all cases, including access control, visitor registration and limits on the number of people in a room at any one time. 
  • The update issued on 19 March 2020 stated that the universities would complete the decentralised selection process for Bachelor’s degree programmes by the deadline of 15 April 2020. It is now clear that the universities have been able to establish an appropriate procedure in virtually all cases (a digital procedure, where possible). A customised solution is being sought for candidates from Brabant who were prevented from taking part in the decentralised selection process at the last moment due to the stricter RIVM guidelines.
  • It also became clear last week that secondary school students will not be able to sit central written final examinations this year. The universities understand the need for this decision in these complex times. Our advice to students who may now find themselves in the transition phase to higher education earlier than might usually have been the case: it is vital for you to familiarise yourself in depth with your chosen degree programme. We will do everything in our power to ensure that students are able to start their degree programmes, remotely if necessary. Given all of the above, it is important for students to register on time - preferably before 1 May 2020 – so that they are able to take part in matching activities. 

Previous version of this message

Update 19 March: BSA, enrolment deadline, students abroad

Following consultation with the VSNU and other parties, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science today published a letter to the Dutch Parliament with an attached service document about the impact of the coronavirus on higher education. In consultation with the Minister, the Dutch universities have indicated that they will act in the spirit of this document. This will include taking the following steps: 

  • Students who do not meet the BSA standard for their degree programme because they have incurred a study delay due to the national COVID-19 measures will be granted an extension.  These students will have the opportunity to obtain a positive BSA in the 2020-2021 academic year. The universities themselves are establishing more detailed guidelines to determine which students are affected. For Maastricht University, it is important to note that the institution is facing a very turbulent academic year in this regard. 
  • Students who meet the BSA standard within the 2019-2020 academic year will receive a positive BSA this academic year.  
  • With respect to enrolment in degree programmes, which in many cases have a deadline of 1 May, this date will in principle be pushed back to 1 June. Students are not entitled to a Study Check if they enrol after 1 May, so universities are working to also offer this service to later applicants where possible. 
  • Degree programmes which use a decentralised selection procedure will maintain the deadline of 15 April. An exception may be necessary for certain medicine programmes; this will be communicated shortly. Where possible, selection procedures will be organised remotely (i.e. online). 
  • Like all Dutch citizens, students and staff are advised by the Dutch government not to travel. A number of students and staff are still abroad at the moment, and the universities are working to identify those affected. The VSNU is in close contact with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the possibilities for repatriation. 
  • The VSNU will also consult with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to discuss offsetting the financial effects of this crisis on universities in the Netherlands. 

The service document contains further information on a large number of other topics, such as the decision not to organise the National Student Survey (NSE) in 2020. 
 


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17 March - crucial professions and building closures 
University staff fall under the 'crucial professions' when they are needed to organise (distance) education, as the VSNU is assured by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. According to the VSNU, this definition applies in practice in any case, but not exhaustively, to:

  • Teachers
  • ICT personnel required to maintain the ICT infrastructure and distance learning support programmes.


For further information we refer to the website of the central government.

Buildings
In the light of the RIVM recommendations to prevent social contact as much as possible and to provide scientific education at a distance, more and more university buildings are closed. The collaborating universities took the following measures on 17 March:

  • All university buildings will be closed to students, with the exception of residential buildings. Students are urged not to come to the university. Universities can make limited exceptions to this, when students really cannot do without, for example, laboratory or ICT facilities. 
  • University libraries are closed for study activities, in some cases there are limited services such as collecting books. University restaurants and cafes are closed, in some cases collection is possible and permitted.
  • Doctoral degree ceremonies are postponed or can only take place in small groups or online for the time being. 
  • Information activities for prospective students will be postponed or will take place online where possible.

For more information about measures taken by universities with regard to the coronavirus, please visit the websites of the universities.
 


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15 March 2020

Following the government decisions on 15 March, the measures for universities as described below are extended by one week up to and including 6 April. This means that until that date, in any event, no physical education will be provided at universities. Where possible, digital education will be offered to students. Many good examples of this can be found in the coming period on Twitter under the hashtags '#connectuniversitiesNL' and '#covidcampus'. Naturally, the universities call on all students and staff to abide by RIVM’s instructions and to minimise social contacts. To ensure that students abroad are safe, they are contacted where necessary to retrieve them from unsafe areas.
 


Previous version of this message
12 March 2020

This afternoon, the government decided that all academic education at universities that requires physical attendance will be cancelled at least until 31 March, as can also be seen in this evening’s letter to the House of Representatives . This also applies to examinations. The government is calling upon the institutions to provide education using online alternatives, and universities are implementing this measure wherever possible. Internship activities can continue, however. This will be determined by the intern and the host company on a case-by-case basis. 

In addition to the above, the universities affiliated with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) have decided, in line with the government’s decision, to cancel all events with more than 100 attendees. The universities will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and follow the guidelines issued by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Among other things, this applies to foreign trips by staff and students to areas to which travel is not recommended. Moreover, employees and students with health complaints are still called upon to take the recommendations of the RIVM seriously. We would also reiterate and reinforce the RIVM's appeal for staff and students to work from home if their work permits, as is also recommended for the rest of the Dutch population. Where possible, the university campuses will remain open to staff and students. 
This policy constitutes a strong joint effort to limit the further spread of the coronavirus. The universities will continue to cooperate with each other and with the central government, RIVM and local authorities in this respect. 
 
This Friday (13 March), further information will follow in the form of a Q&A from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. This will be distributed via online media.


 

Previous version of this message
11 March 2020
Update: on Monday 9 March, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) expanded the hygiene rules to include the recommendation that people should no longer shake hands. Universities are continuing to follow the advice of the RIVM.


Universities in the Netherlands are closely monitoring the situation surrounding the coronavirus. The universities are currently following the health-related advice of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the travel advice issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Universities can take any additional measures they deem necessary. If you have specific questions about the latest updates on the situation, please contact your university. Many universities also have information available on the Internet or the intranet.


The RIVM recommends contacting your GP or local Municipal Health Service (GGD) by telephone if you have a fever with respiratory symptoms (e.g. coughing or shortness of breath). This advice also applies to mild symptoms, especially if you have been to a risk area (China, Singapore, South Korea, Iran and Northern Italy) or have come into contact with someone who has the coronavirus in the past two weeks. The RIVM and the GGD point out that it is important that you do not go to your GP’s office without contacting someone at the office first.


Staff and students from affected areas do not need to stay at home as a preventive measure. This is not medically necessary at this time. However, it is a good idea for staff and students to be informed about what they should do if they are experiencing (mild) health problems. This text will be updated as and when new advice is issued by the RIVM.


On Friday 28 February, the VSNU informed the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science that the lack of face masks could impact clinical education (e.g. at faculties of medicine and in dentistry programmes).
For further information, please refer to the information provided by the Dutch government (English information can be found here) and the coronavirus FAQs for education and for employers and employees. We also have an additional Q&A for the universities.


For more information from the VSNU, please contact spokesperson Bart Pierik (pierik@vsnu.nl, 06 50 48 30 17).