Coronavirus update 14 October: Teaching activities will continue as planned, face masks at universities.
Teaching activities will continue as planned
In recent months, lecturers and students have worked with an incredible amount of dedication and perseverance to keep the teaching going. Mostly online, but fortunately also partly at the university. The value of physical education is also recognised in the new package of measures: it will remain possible to come to the university for physical education to a limited extent. The teaching activities of universities are exempt from the maximum group size of 30 people, allowing self-assessment and examinations (for example) to go ahead wherever physically possible. With the aforementioned protocol (Dutch only) to hand, universities will continue to take measures such as the deployment of coronavirus stewards and walking routes, so that teaching activities can take place safely within the 1.5-metre university. The universities are calling on students and staff to continue to take responsibility in line with these measures to ensure that physical education remains possible.
Face masks at universities
In the press conference of 13 October, the government announced that the wearing of face masks will eventually be made compulsory. An urgent recommendation to wear face masks already applies in advance of the legal regulations. Universities are following the government’s guidelines in this regard. Students and staff must therefore wear face masks when they are moving through the university buildings; when they are sitting in the lecture hall or behind their desks, the face masks may be removed. Communication on this subject will follow through the channels of the various institutions.
Impact on other facilities on the campus
The national measures apply to catering and sports facilities. The impact of the measures on other, non-education-related facilities on university campuses is still being mapped out. Further communication on this will follow for each institution.
Universities ensure a safe university in line with the University Protocol for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year (Dutch only). Universities are also bringing the CoronaMelder app, which was launched last week, to the attention of students and staff. The app can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Playstore.
Coronavirus update 8 October: recognising students, teaching staff and support and management staff
We would like to take a moment to recognise all those without whose efforts universities would not have been able to withstand this crisis: our students, support and management staff and teaching staff. VSNU board member Martin Paul and VSNU president Pieter Duisenberg have each made a video which is available in Dutch (click on their names to view the video).
Continuity for young researchers
This spring, the universities agreed with the employees’ organisations to the one-off use of 0.45% of the wage bill (around €20 million) to finance solutions to issues related to terms and conditions of employment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In practice, the universities will be using these funds mainly to extend the temporary contracts of researchers, PhD candidates, teaching staff and support and management staff whose work has incurred delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following consultations with the VSNU and other parties, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science has now decided that the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) will make another €20 million available to extend the contracts of researchers whose work has been delayed. The funds will be distributed among the research institutions involved, using an allocation formula to be determined jointly by the NWO and the VSNU. Unfortunately, this does not involve additional funding, as the VSNU would have liked.
Coronavirus update for 29 September: New measures, face-to-face learning to continue wherever possible
The government has announced a tightening- up of the measures to fight coronavirus. Universities are relieved to hear that face-to-face learning will be able to continue even under the new measures. We continue to urge students and staff to adhere to the coronavirus measures, so we can continue to make use of the (albeit limited) capacity for face-to-face learning.
On 18 September, the government complimented the education sector on the way in which it was dealing with the corona crisis. It stated that infections among students primarily occur at social events and get-togethers outside of university. In this context, in the Letter to the House of Representatives of Tuesday 29 September, the government stated that education will continue unless it really cannot do so. Not imposing further restrictions on face-to-face learning is a clear sign that the government understands the value of face-to-face learning even at times like these.
The new measures announced by the government will have the following impact on universities:
- Planned face-to-face learning activities (including examinations) will go ahead with social distancing measures in place (1.5 metres apart). Conferrals of doctorates, inaugural lectures, graduation meetings and graduation ceremonies can be organised on a small scale, with a maximum of 30 people.
- The universities will comply with the more stringent rules around working from home. Staff will work from home unless they really cannot do so. Staff will only go onto campus to do work that they can’t do anywhere else. Examples of this include researchers who conduct their research in a laboratory and lecturers who have to teach. Also, staff who can’t work from home due to their personal circumstances can work at the university. Universities will inform their staff of the impact of the rules for their own particular institution.
- Self-study on campus is a permitted educational activity. It must always take place in accordance with the applicable RIVM rules. Further agreements in this regard, e.g. mandatory advance booking, can be made by the individual universities themselves.
- Universities will await the OMT advice and government ruling on face masks and will follow the national or regional policy on face masks. A number of security regions have recommended that face masks be worn in public indoor spaces. University buildings are not public indoor spaces and universities do not therefore require students and staff to wear face masks. Clearly, the universities will comply with any additional instructions from the Regional Safety Authority. It is up to individuals to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to wear a face mask. Different rules may apply in university medical centres.
- Non education-related facilities on campus will comply with the measures announced yesterday. Examples include the closing of sports canteens and sports events without spectators. The sports facilities themselves can continue to be used.
Thus far, universities are positive about the protocol. It creates clear rules and ensures that education and research can take place safely on campus to a limited extent. Universities will continue to review the relevance of the protocol and will revise it where necessary. Clearly, all the universities are doing everything they can to make the best of what are difficult circumstances for both our students and staff.
Coronavirus update 21 September 2020: Better to attend a lecture than a party: students urged to take responsibility
COVID-19 infections are on the rise, especially among young people. Despite the fact that the vast majority of students are taking the measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus quite seriously, things seem to be moving in the wrong direction in a number of university cities. Serious incidents such as those that occurred this past weekend are completely at odds with both the actions of all those who are accepting their personal responsibility and the hard work of the student associations during this difficult period. One good example is the Delftsche Studenten Bond, which created a poster explaining what students should do when they or members of their household have symptoms and need to be tested. The VSNU is asking all student associations to put forth similar initiatives of their own.
In recent months, universities have made every possible effort to ensure that face-to-face teaching can safely resume in their buildings. The infections currently taking place among young people are therefore occurring primarily in private settings, and in any case not at the educational institutions’ facilities.
On Wednesday, 16 September, in an episode of Nieuwsuur the VSNU called on students to continue displaying responsible behaviour. President Duisenberg said during the Nieuwsuur broadcast: ‘While many students are taking this quite seriously, it is apparently not yet enough. A higher number of cases is not going to bring us any closer to increasing the amount of face-to-face teaching. Which means it is better to attend a lecture than a party.’
On Friday, 18 September, the Dutch government announced new measures to combat COVID-19, including an obligation to report any gathering of more than 50 people. Educational activities are exempt from this reporting obligation. The government also announced its intention to launch a new informational campaign aimed at young people. The mayors of the twelve university cities in the Netherlands were urged to work with student organisations to address the problem of new infections, and to explore the possibilities for additional space for face-to-face teaching, if necessary, in consultation with the educational institutions.
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.
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:
- infographics to inform students and staff of e.g. the University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen, Eindhoven University of Technology, Tilburg University and Delft University of Technology;
- the Q&A page of Leiden University;
- videos about the gradual reopening of Utrecht University and Maastricht University.
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.
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!'
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Today saw Minister Slob send a letter to the House of Representatives on adjustments to the pass-fail regulation in conne