News

Information on the coronavirus in relation to universities

Information on the coronavirus in relation to universities


Coronavirus update 31st of August: Universities to extend temporary contracts for young academics and lecturers

All 14 universities will be extending the temporary contracts of researchers, PhD candidates, lecturers and support staff whose work has incurred delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the summer period, the universities implemented the joint agreement set out in the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities to make one-off funds available for the extension of temporary contracts. Most universities have already adopted a scheme, while others are still working on this. For example, Radboud University agreed to extend temporary contracts by three months if no research had been able to be carried out for three months. Leiden University will be extending the temporary contracts of 84 PhD candidates and postdocs who have incurred delays due to the coronavirus pandemic by three months. At Utrecht University this involves 64 contracts which have already been extended. Most coronavirus-related delays were caused by lab or research facilities being closed temporarily.

This concerns the implementation of an agreement in the 2020 CAO NU. In this agreement the universities agreed with the employees' organisations to the one-off use of 0.45% of the wage bill to finance solutions to issues related to working terms and conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Coronavirus update 7 August 2020: Appeal and measures for orientation programme

The government called on the universities yesterday evening to limit physical meetings during the orientation programme for first-year students to informative meetings in small groups. Moreover, the government imposed a ban on physical activities organised by student associations. These measures aim to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. If needed, the universities will accordingly adapt the physical activities scheduled in the context of the orientation programme for first-year students, in consultation with the security region in question.


The universities have organised induction activities over the weeks ahead for students who will start their degree programme in September. Unlike previous years, these activities had already been organised largely or entirely online. This year, the universities are again committed to facilitating the start of students’ degree programmes, including by familiarising them with the institution, student facilities, fellow students and the prospective study city. The universities are also calling on their students to comply with all of the COVID-19 measures in force.

Due to the various measures against COVID-19, this year's cohort of first-year students will have a radically different kick-off from previous years. The universities regret this fact, as they set great store by making their students feel welcome at the university and allowing them to connect with each other, the academic community as well as their city, also in light of their study success. For this reason, the universities will continue their efforts to provide this group with the fullest possible study experience, while of course observing safety and the existing measures.


Coronavirus update 24 July 2020: Protocol for entry or re-entry of students

Most borders had been closed due to the coronavirus. The EU entry ban has been lifted for a number of countries since 1 July. For Europeans, it is often possible to travel within Europe again as well. As a result, staff and students can go on a holiday as well as return from abroad, while international students may travel to the Netherlands. In all respects, universities are preparing for the beginning of the new academic year, which also entails a joint framework for dealing with the entry or re-entry of students. The protocol, based on government regulations as well as the guidelines of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM), can be found here.



Corona update 10 July 2020: new version service document higher education and postdocs

New version service document higher education
A new version of the higher education service document was published today. This update contains, among other things, the previously made agreements about the space for physical education from August 1, which was reported in the corona update of June 17. 

In addition, the document contains current rules that apply to international students wishing to travel to the Netherlands. All information about entry can be found on the website of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service.

Furthermore, the service document contains the rules that apply to the admission to higher education of students who obtain their pre-diploma through the state examination. For example, it may happen that a student still has to take a resit after 1 September. These students will also be admitted to their further education under the condition that they obtain the diploma before 1 January 2021.

Postdocs
At the VAO Science Lisa Westerveld and Niels van den Berge (both GroenLinks) submitted a motion to balance an exception to the Labour Market Act (WAB), so that the employment contracts of postdocs can be extended once and they can complete their current research. The motion was advised against by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science and was rejected in the votes. The Minister acknowledges the problem with postdoc contracts and said in the debate: "We're just going to solve this together".

The Minister of Education, Culture and Science indicated that she prefers a different solution. In her opinion, investigators should be given a permanent contract, with a so-called settlement agreement containing the conditions for dissolution. 


Corona update 25 June: More space for physical education in the new academic year, fire letter contract extension post-docs

Yesterday the Dutch government announced a new phase in the relaxation of the coronavirus measures for the higher education sector. The easing of the measures will have an impact on the start of the new academic year, particularly on the following issues: 1) what activities may be resumed at the universities and 2) how can we ensure the safe use of public transport?


The principle that has applied since 15 June is that teaching activities that cannot be replaced or are difficult to replace with online alternatives may be resumed by the universities on campus only within specific time slots. Examples are practical training and certain examinations. Both restrictions cease to apply with effect from 1 August 2020: all types of teaching activities may again be scheduled in the classroom timetable for the whole day. This is subject to the strict conditions that the RIVM rules must be observed and that proper arrangements must be made with the public transport operators on students’ travel movements.


The RVIM rules obviously are the basic rules that always apply. They include washing your hands often, maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres from others and not attending university if you have symptoms that may point to COVID-19. The immediate consequence of maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres is that the educational facilities at the universities cannot be fully utilised: the assessment is that universities can use a maximum of around 30% of the ‘normal’ seating capacity at one time. The limited capacity means that there will be a mix of online and face-to-face teaching at the start of the new academic year for all students. 


It has also been agreed that proper arrangements will be made at local/regional level between the universities and public transport operators on travelling to and from university buildings by public transport. The Letter to Parliament states the following in this regard: ‘The shared ambition is to be able to transport as many people as possible safely to the education institutions by public transport.’ This basic principle serves as guidance for these local/regional arrangements.

 

Further details on how the universities will implement the new arrangements have been set out in a new version of the protocol for the universities. These arrangements will enable the universities to resume more teaching and research activities at the institutions. This is urgently needed. As the rectors magnifici recently argued, face-to-face meetings and being able to learn from each other are strongly linked to the value of university education. 

Incendiary letter on the extension of post-doc contracts
The coronavirus measures are having a significant impact on academic research. Incurring a delay in research activities is a serious problem for individual researchers and for knowledge development in the Netherlands. Universities can offer solutions to some of the researchers: we will extend the contracts of PhD candidates and provide tenure trackers with a permanent contract earlier than planned. However, these solutions are not an option for the group in between, the post-docs: under the current legislation it is not possible to extend their contract at the end of the maximum term of four years and universities only have room to offer some of these researchers a permanent contract. 

The trade unions concerned and VSNU, supported by PostdocNL, want to include a temporary provision in the CAO of Dutch Universities, which will enable the four-year contracts of post-docs to be extended by a maximum of six months. However, this amendment to the CAO cannot be implemented without the consent of the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. The organisations concerned have therefore sent an incendiary letter to the House of Representatives. In the General Consultation on Research Policy held yesterday, all political parties present (VVD, CDA, D66, ChristenUnie, PVV, GroenLinks, SP and PvdA) requested Minister van Engelshoven to arrange this with the minister of Social Affairs and Employment. The minister pledged that she would solve this problem.
 

 


Coronavirus update 17 June: room for activities at universities and update to higher education service document

Room for activities at universities
Since Monday 15 June, teaching activities have been permitted to take place in university buildings on a limited scale. As recently as last week, the rectors of all Dutch universities used an opinion piece to plead for more space for offline teaching. University staff are going to great lengths to ensure that the teaching activities at the institutions – no matter how limited – go smoothly. Universities inform their own staff and students about when specific activities are possible again in university buildings, for example through:

The VSNU is in talks with the Dutch government regarding the further easing of measures in the new academic year. We hope to have obtained a clearer picture shortly.

Service document update of 16 June
On 16 June, an update to the higher education service document was published. Among other things, this sets out which institution receives funding and tuition fees if a student is temporarily enrolled in two degree programmes because he or she has been provisionally admitted to a follow-up programme. If a student is admitted to a Bachelor's programme at a research university, but still needs to complete the first-year phase of a university of applied sciences programme, the follow-up programme is designated the programme of first enrolment. This means that the student must pay tuition fees to the research university offering the Bachelor's programme and consequently that this research university will receive funding. The same principle applies to students who transfer to a Master's programme while their Bachelor's programme at a research university or university of applied sciences has not yet been completed. The institution offering the Master's programme will receive funding and tuition fees.

The service document also discusses student well-being. For instance, it has been agreed that the Student Well-Being task force will produce guidance with points for attention for the coming academic year and the restart of offline teaching ahead of the summer recess. This task force is composed of representatives from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, educational institutions, student organisations and the Expert Centre on Inclusive Education.

Click here to access the latest version of the service document.

English-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. Under the terms of a recent agreement with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, universities may now use approved versions of existing tests. On Tuesday 16 June, a new language test was added to this list of approved alternatives, so that prospective students from China can sit one in time as well. The agreements on the approved alternatives are laid down in the extended guidelines of the Code of Conduct for International Students in Dutch Higher Education.


Corona update 20 May: relaxation of government restrictions regarding higher education and protocol governing university activities
Last night, the government announced a further relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions. This means that, as of 15 June, universities can resume face-to-face teaching on a small scale. The universities have drawn up agreements on how this can be done responsibly. These are set out in the Protocol for Resuming Activities at Universities at Universities. Among other things, this sets out the principles that the universities will adhere to when resuming their activities, and which activities will be given priority over the next few weeks:

  • Resumption of teaching in laboratories and practical training, with priority given to graduating students;
  • Small-scale teaching, such as small working groups or clinical/pre-clinical training (including dentistry and veterinary medicine) for which no effective online alternative is available;
  • Tests or examinations that cannot feasibly be organised remotely;
  • Mentoring and tutoring of vulnerable students;
  • Thesis supervision. 
     

Clearly, people’s health will come first in all aspects of the resumption of activities. Working from home will remain the norm and the RIVM guidelines will apply at all times. Limiting the pressure on public transport, particularly during peak hours, is also important. The basic principle is: over the next few weeks, teaching activities at universities will start and end between 11 am and 3 pm and after 8 pm. If transport providers agree at the regional level, following consultation with the security region and with the agreement of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, universities can also start or finish teaching outside of these hours.

The motto in these uncertain times remains: ‘on campus if we can, online because we can’. The universities’ campaign on this makes it clear to prospective students how interesting and valuable studying at a university is – even in the current climate.

The measures that have just been announced give the universities more scope. Scope to resume important activities, which are crucial if study delays are to be prevented. And this relaxation of restrictions also allows us to look forward to the next academic year. The universities are working very hard on creating an attractive offer for the new intake of students and on induction weeks that combine the best of digital and small-scale learning. Over the next few weeks we will be consulting intensively with the government and public transport providers over the additional freedom that is needed to get the universities off to a flying start in September. 


Corona update 15 May: e-zine ‘Universities in times of corona’, new Ministry of Education, Culture and Science service document, Erasmus+ and negotiation settlement for 2020 Collective Labour Agreement

E-zine ‘Universities in times of corona
Today, the universities jointly presented the brand-new e-Zine ‘Universities in times of corona’, which outlines the contribution of the Dutch universities to corona-related research. From risk factors for health to privacy issues, from the psychological impact of a lockdown to the development of ventilators: in conjunction with scientists from all over the world, the universities are developing, creating and improving across a broad range of fields. Naturally, the e-zine also provides more detailed information on some of the research projects mentioned. VSNU president Peter Duisenberg presented the ‘first copy’ of this e-zine to Minister Van Engelshoven this afternoon.

The Minister praised the commitment of the universities in these difficult times: 'Everywhere I look I see scientists and lecturers from universities adapting overnight to a completely new reality. They are working on important research on the coronavirus and delivering lectures and supervision in an online environment, both of which are of great value to society at this time. The flexibility and commitment that they have shown recently is admirable, and we would like to thank them for it!'

 

Erasmus+ exchanges
The Erasmus+ programme plays an important role in enabling students to gain international experience, so ideally, universities should endeavour to achieve 100% Erasmus mobility by the forthcoming Autumn semester. However, this will be extremely challenging for the universities. Some European universities have announced that they will not receive or send any students during the Autumn semester. Moreover, it is still unclear if and when the corona-related restrictions will be lifted in individual countries and regions, and we saw for ourselves this spring how difficult it was to have to repatriate thousands of students in a short space of time from their exchange destinations. Over the next few weeks, the Dutch universities will decide whether and, if so, how exchanges can take place within the Erasmus+ region. Student safety will come first. Secondly, planning is crucial for students: whether we go ahead with exchanges or not affects accommodation (both here and abroad), part-time jobs, booking of flights, etc. So it’s important that a decision on this is made in good time. If safety cannot be adequately guaranteed, however disappointing it may be, universities must take the decision not to go ahead with the Erasmus+ exchange programme in the first semester. 

When making this decision, all the universities will adhere to the following joint guidelines:

  • Universities will, at minimum, follow the travel advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Commission decisions on the permissibility of Erasmus+ exchanges. 
  • If the Dutch government’s travel restriction level is red or orange, travel to countries outside of the Netherlands is not permitted and no trips can be booked. If students book trips or make other commitments in spite of this, it will be at their own risk. 
  • As far as incoming mobility is concerned, all institutions will follow the Dutch government’s advice on this. 
  • Universities will inform students in good time so that, if necessary, they can choose an alternative (modules at their own university, virtual mobility, etc.). 


The universities will decide, on the basis of these principles, whether exchanges can go ahead fully or in part, and we are actively looking into the possibility of alternatives to the exchanges (such as digital options) and whether additional exchange opportunities can be made available during the remainder of the year. We remain committed to student exchanges at European level. Besides the Erasmus+ programme, universities are also involved in a wide range of exchanges with universities outside Europe. The universities must adhere to the above guidelines for these exchanges too, and decide, on that basis, whether and, if so, how exchanges can go ahead.

Financial compensation
The arrangements for financial compensation for students were also clarified today. It is now important that we quickly get clarity over financial support for lecturers and researchers: after all, delays in students’ education will require additional input on their part over the next few years. In addition, there are further delays in research projects at universities, which is causing problems for young researchers in particular. This issue must be resolved.

New Higher Education Service Document from Ministry
Also today, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science issued a new version of the Higher Education Service Document. This service document contains further details of the agreements made concerning, among other things, transfers between study programmes, arrangements for those entering the teaching profession from other fields, accreditation procedures and the impact of the corona crisis on researchers. You can read the new service document here.

Negotiation settlement for 2020 Collective Labour Agreement
Negotiators representing the VSNU employer organisation and employee organisations FNV, AC-FBZ, CNV Overheid and AOB have reached a negotiation settlement on the 2020 Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU). The collective bargaining parties have agreed on a general salary increase of 3.0% as of 1 June 2020. In addition, employees will receive a one-off gross lump sum payment of €750, based on full-time employment. The collective bargaining parties will be reserving 0.45% of the wage negotiation margin to finance any obstacles in relation to employees’ terms of employment as a result of costs incurred due to COVID-19. 

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have had a dramatic impact on society as a whole. The agreements that have been reached are therefore partly related to the issues arising from this crisis. At the universities, employees are working tirelessly to ensure that remote teaching and research can continue to take place as much as possible. In addition, the crisis has also created uncertainty for a number of employees. Universities and employee organisations hope this negotiation settlement will encourage and support employees. Further information on the provisional agreement can be found here.


 

VSNU coronavirus update 6 May

The universities are hard at work on online education and research. They are also working hard on the longer term: what format will university take after the summer? Today the VSNU universities are launching an information campaign entitled ‘On Campus, if we can | Online, because we can’.

Online education: now widely available, focus now is on solutions for students who are graduating and lab-based education
The major efforts that lecturers and students are making to ensure that, wherever possible, education can continue to be delivered, are reaping rewards: it is estimated that universities are now delivering more than 90% of their education digitally. Clearly there have been teething problems and this is uncharted territory, but we must be applauded for what we have achieved so far. Last week we even received a visit from the Prime Minister!

Currently the universities’ main focus is to find solutions for students who are graduating this year and for the delivery of lab-based education, both of which are problematic due to the COVID-19 measures that have been put in place. The universities want to have a strategy ready so that, as soon as there is more scope for (restricted) educational activities, they can implement it without delay. This protocol will be issued shortly and will also serve as input for new government measures.

Introduction weeks will go ahead with a different format
Given the government’s announcement that no events can take place until after 1 September, it is clear that the introduction weeks for students will have to have a different format this year. Together with the National Chamber of Student Associations (LKvV) and local student associations, universities are working on replacement programmes, so introductions can go go ahead nationwide and students can be welcomed to their new environment. The institutions themselves will provide further information on this in due course through their own channels.

Digital study choice activities
The universities are also working on digital study choice activities. Interviews with alumni, lectures and even whole open days are being delivered online! It is important that prospective students get involved with this as much as possible, since it helps them make the right study choice. More information on what is available can be found on the universities’ websites.

On Campus, if we can | Online, because we can
The uncertainty over how this crisis will develop affects us all. For the universities, the measures imposed by the government and the guidance issued by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) always come first. At the same time, the universities are keen to take a longer-term perspective. That’s why today we are launching an online information campaign with the promise ‘On Campus, if we can | Online, because we can’. Through this universities will make it clear to prospective students that education is still being delivered. Ideally on campus and, if not, online wherever possible. Further information on this campaign can be found here.


VSNU coronavirus update 29 April

Prime Minister participates in online education
Over recent weeks the universities have transformed the way they deliver their education, from face-to-face to online. It is estimated that more than 90% of university education is now delivered digitally. Today, Prime Minister Rutte saw for himself how this works in practice. He attended two online lectures at Dutch universities and talked to students, lecturers and rectors about their experiences with online education. Click here for a brief impression of the visit.

ResilientSociety
Last week saw the launch of the co-creation platform ResilientSociety, which facilitates the sharing of large quantities of knowledge in the battle against the coronavirus. Over the coming period, we will highlight a number of initiatives from this platform here. For example, currently there is not only a shortage of masks but also of facilities for testing masks. ‘ProjectMask’ is working on facilities for carrying out five different tests on masks and for sterilising them. Another example is the ‘We/Visit’ project, which helps improve contact between patients and family members. For further fascinating examples of scientific efforts to counter the coronavirus, see www.resilientsociety.nl.
 

Initial Accreditation (TNO)
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NVAO is no longer conducting assessments in situ. This also has a major impact on new study programmes. The NVAO now expects, under certain conditions, to be able to speed up the assessment of Initial Accreditations (TNOs) and to be able to process a large number of the applications that are waiting for assessment by 1 September. This is currently being discussed with the umbrella organisations – including the VSNU - and student organisations. Further information on this will shortly be available on the NVAO’s website . 


Previous version of this message

VSNU coronavirus update 24 April

Scope for research activities
In the new version of the Higher Education Service Document the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has clarified the scope for research activities at universities: 

Activities other than educational activities can continue to take place, provided that they comply with the general guidance provided by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Municipal Health Service (GGD) . This means, among other things, that institutions can allow staff to carry out research activities within the physical location(s) of higher education institutions, provided that this research cannot be done remotely and provided that it can be organised in such a way as to comply with the general guidance issued by the RIVM and the GGD.

Institutions can decide for themselves how these research activities are organised and how they inform their staff in this regard. 

Profiling fund for sick students
The update to the Higher Education Service Document also confirmed that the profiling fund is available for specific groups of students. This mainly applies to students who incur a delay in their studies because they themselves are or have been ill as a result of the coronavirus or because members of their family have been ill (and they have had to look after them). In view of the exceptional circumstances, institutions will monitor the number of payments they make to these groups of students and discuss the matter subsequently with the Minister of Education, Culture and Science.


As stated in the Service Document, the profiling fund is not intended for students who incur a delay in their studies due to changes to their degree programme resulting from the measures put in place to counter COVID-19. It has, however, been agreed that discussions between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, student organisations and educational umbrella organisations around solutions for this group of students will take place in due course. 

Letter concerning temporary contracts for researchers
The VSNU and the employers’ organisations of research universities, supported by the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) / the Employers’ Association of Research Institutes (WVOI), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI), Het Maxima, PostdocNL and PhD Network Netherlands (PNN), have sent a letter to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science drawing attention to the following problems: as a sector, we anticipate that, as a result of the COVID-19 measures, many researchers will not be able to complete their research within the designated maximum contract period. The sector therefore urges the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, together with the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Wouter Koolmees, to provide a solution to the problem in the form of a temporary, one-off COVID-19 exemption from the ban on the extension of a temporary contract beyond four years. See the full letter here.


Fighting COVID-19 together Launch of ResilientSociety co-creation platform
The ResilientSociety website is a co-creation platform for scientists from Dutch universities, national and regional authorities, companies, academic start-ups and many other public and private partners. This platform aims to share knowledge and connect professionals from government bodies, science, businesses and industries worldwide to arrive at practical solutions and mitigate the global crisis.

Gathering and organising the expertise and the capacities available at businesses, government bodies, universities, start-ups, investors and many others will enable this platform to tackle the most urgent bottlenecks through co-creation. This way, the platform will ensure that researchers and entrepreneurs who are working on solutions to COVID-19 problems can be linked quickly and effectively to expertise, capacities and financing, which will accelerate the impact of their projects.


Partners can submit urgent COVID-19 related challenges on the platform. These challenges are brought to the attention of platform participants by a review panel. The most suitable co-creation team is then put together from members of the various partner organisations. The partners concerned then jointly set to work on finding a solution to the specific problem.


As soon as a solution has been found it is shared through open source, or as a new business, worldwide. The purpose is to make the knowledge available for everyone to use and to accelerate the impact of the new products and services.


If you would like to join the platform, share your challenges or make a contribution in another way, please register or email Resilience Society at resilience@worldstartup.com.


Follow the Twitter channel here
Follow the LinkedIn channel here
Follow the Instagram account here
Follow the Facebook account here
 

Transferring to a Bachelor’s programme at a research university after following the first year of a degree programme at a University of Applied Sciences.
The VSNU has already made agreements concerning special arrangements for students who wish to transfer from a Bachelor’s programme to a Master’s programme (see update 8 April below), and today a solution is also being proposed for students who, having followed the first year of a degree programme at a University of Applied Sciences, wish to transfer to a Bachelor’s programme at a research university. The research universities want to avoid these students not being able to start their Bachelor’s degree at a research university next academic year because they have not been able to complete their first year at a University of Applied Sciences by 1 September 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis. Consequently, for academic year 2020-2021, research universities are being allowed to waive the requirement that students must have completed the first year of a degree at a University of Applied Sciences. The procedure will be as follows: these students must apply for a place on the Bachelor’s programme at a research university by 1 June 2020. The student must request a completion statement from the University of Applied Sciences and submit it to the research university by 1 August at the latest. The research university will assess whether the student concerned can provisionally be admitted on the basis of the completion statement based on the degree of difficulty of the programme to be followed. If so, the student will be provisionally admitted to the Bachelor’s programme until 1 January 2021. Special arrangements will have to be made for research university programmes which require additional criteria and/or tests over and above HBO-P (completion of the first year of a degree programme at a University of Applied Sciences). Further information on this can be found in the latest edition of the Higher Education Service Document issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.


Previous version of this message

VSNU coronavirus update 21 April

The government has tonight modified and relaxed a number of coronavirus measures. As things stand, this does not affect education at research universities; we will continue with the alternatives to face-to-face education. However, in consultation with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and in preparation for future government announcements, the research universities will draw up proposals for the resumption of (in the first instance) small-scale, face-to-face teaching and examination activities for which there are no online alternatives. It is anticipated that these proposals will be included in the government’s announcement on 13 May. 


In the press conference the government also announced that the ban on events which require a licence would be extended, until 1 September 2020 at the earliest. This affects the induction weeks for new students in August, and may also impact on the start of the academic year. The universities themselves will provide information on this in due course.


Another meeting between the VSNU and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will take place on Thursday. The VSNU will post a new update here once the meeting has taken place. 
 


Previous version of this message

Coronavirus update 15 April: online courses for school pupils and progress regarding delays to research projects

Free online courses for secondary school students and primary school pupils
The VSNU wants to help all pupils and students who have not been able to attend school for a long period of time as a result of the coronavirus by offering them with range of online courses. This will give them easy access to all kinds of interesting scientific topics free of charge! We are providing these courses in conjunction with the research universities’ Learning Hubs (Wetenschapsknooppunten), VSNU Netwerk Aansluiting vwo-wo (which links pre-university education in schools with research universities) and the University of the Netherlands. The full range of courses has been available here for the past week.

Progress regarding delays to research projects
Last week the VSNU, PNN, PostdocNL, the NFU, ZonMW and NWO presented a document entitled ‘Research project delays: research institutions working on solutions’. This makes it clear that universities and other research institutions are seeking tailor-made solutions to the issues faced by researchers. Part of the planned solutions is more scope for extending contracts. An initial meeting with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment on the labour law aspects of this issue has now taken place. As soon as we have something to report, we will update you here.
 


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. The Executive Board, 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. 
 


Previous version of this message

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.
 


Previous version of this message
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.


Uni