Social distancing not applicable in higher education

For the time being, nothing is changing in higher education other than the face mask rule. Social distancing is advised, but higher education institutions do not have to change their teaching arrangements, the Ministry of Education has announced.

‘Education is so important that the decision has been made to leave it untouched’, says spokesperson Michiel Hendrikx.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo De Jonge announced new coronavirus measures. Students and staff must once again wear face masks when walking around the campus. Face masks may be removed during classes.

But the outgoing government also advised people to observe social distancing again. So it’s a recommendation, Hendrikx stresses, not an obligation. ‘If you can observe social distancing in the lecture halls and canteen, please do so. But if you’re in a working group and it’s impossible, good education is more important than social distancing.’

QR codes

Higher education also does not have to enforce QR codes for the time being. Neither students nor staff will be required to provide a code.

The government is preparing a law that permits employers to check the QR code of their staff members, but that will apply only in sectors in which the COVID pass is in use, such as hospitality. Currently, bar owners can check guests but not staff; that is something the government wants to change.

‘That doesn’t affect higher education at the moment’, says Hendrikx. Only if COVID passes are introduced also in the higher education sector (‘That is fortunately still a long way off’) could that law also affect lecturers and other staff.


Higher education institutions and student organisations are relieved that so few changes are being made. ‘Great that face-to-face teaching can go ahead as usual’, says spokesperson Ruben Puylaert of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). ‘Of course, we all have to wait and see what will happen, but we want teaching to be done face to face. That really adds value. It would also be disastrous for workloads if we had to start teaching partially online once again.’

Student organisations ISO and LSVb are also happy that education is not affected for the time being. ‘We are very glad that, for once, the subject of higher education was not raised at a press conference’, says ISO chair Lisanne de Roos.

De Roos is in any event not comfortable with the idea of COVID passes in higher education. ‘Education is the last sector in which COVID passes should be introduced. The minister has always said that it’s really a last resort, for example if we have lockdowns again. It’s really good that the government is sticking to that.’


Rutte and De Jonge hope that everyone will become even more aware of the seriousness of the situation and that, vaccinated or not – they will remain home if they show symptoms of COVID-19 and then get tested at the GGD.

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