Yesterday the government sent a variety of coronavirus decisions and parliamentary bills to the House of Representatives, asking that they be dealt with rapidly. With infection rates rising, the government wants to be able to take firm action.
One of the plans is for Covid passes in higher education. Students would then be allowed to access the campus only if they have been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or have been tested.
Not a festival
But the higher education institutions between them have hundreds of locations, where thousands of lectures and seminars take place every week. Checking the passes would cause ‘major implementation problems’, they say. Education is not a festival with a single clear entrance, as they have explained on several previous occasions.
Moreover, the government wants the educational institutions to guarantee the accessibility of teaching for students without a Covid pass. For those students the institutions would therefore have to devise various alternatives. That is simply not possible, according to a press release issued by the umbrella organisations.
And why are Covid passes needed? Many students and staff have been vaccinated and there have been no documented outbreaks in the sector. The institutions are ‘strongly’ asking the House of Representatives ‘not to require Covid passes in this way in higher education and to first give the sector the chance to look for alternatives’.
Student and staff participation
Student and staff participation is also being circumvented in the government bill. Currently students and staff have a veto regarding the introduction of Covid passes at their institution, but the government wants to scrap that. The two umbrella organisations do not mention this in their press release. It does not appear to be their greatest concern.
But they have come up with alternatives to the government’s plans, now that the government is considering the pass as a measure of last resort. Higher education could perhaps carry out random checks or only if more than 75 students gather in a single area.
There are also only limited opportunities for alternative teaching for students without a Covid pass, the institutions believe, and you cannot provide all the classes both online and face-to-face. ‘Lectures online are generally possible, but providing small courses, project subjects, practical subjects and suchlike in two formats cannot be done’, says Pieter Duisenberg, President of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).
That is also the opinion of his colleague Maurice Limmen of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. ‘Introducing Covid passes will be detrimental to the access to education, and that’s a fact. We cannot provide the same teaching both face-to-face and online at the same time.’
The House of Representatives has not yet discussed Covid passes. The political groups are still reviewing their position. Last spring D66, CDA and GroenLinks made sure that students and staff could have their say about Covid passes. Whether a majority of the House wants to abandon that is a moot point.
The House of Representatives will probably act less quickly than the government hopes. The bills are not expected to be debated this week. Then everything gets pushed back a week and stricter, lockdown-like coronavirus measures could be introduced.