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No relaxation of measures, not at the UM either

OMT finds infection rate too high

MAASTRICHT. There is no official announcement yet, but the anticipated relaxation of the measures in higher education will not take place. The number of infections is too high. The doors of Maastricht University will therefore not be opened (further) next week. A great pity, rector Rianne Letschert feels, and “terrible” for the students. “But you don’t want to end up in a full-scale third wave.”

The plans for a partial reopening of the buildings on 31 March are ready. But they can be put back in the drawer, because nothing will change next week. This news leaked out after the consultations of the ministers involved and the chairman of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). The curfew will remain in place too and the outdoor cafés are not allowed to open yet either. Prime minister Rutte and minister De Jonge will officially announce these decisions during a press conference next Tuesday.

“Is this a good decision? Hard to say. Everybody has had it with the lockdown, but I trust the experts of the OMT,” says rector Rianne Letschert. “It is so easy to take a populist stance and call this a bad decision, but nobody wants to end up in a full-scale third wave that would push back recovery even further. If we keep it up for a little longer, I hope that there will be more room in six to eight weeks, when the vaccination rate has increased. Otherwise, other tensions will arise too. Eventually, I hope that we will be able to open fully in September.”

She emphasises that this decision is “terrible” for students. The fifth period (from April onwards) will start online, but should there be any good news in the meantime, three faculties –  Psychology and Neuroscience, Science and Engineering, the School of Business and Economics – will switch to hybrid education (partly on campus, partly online) as announced earlier, while the other three will only open up their buildings for extracurricular activities, for example for study associations, small project groups, mentor meetings, or to study.

Letschert thinks that the relaxation of the rules for secondary vocational education (MBO), is justifiable. “Those institutes provide a lot of practical education – our practicals are continuing as well – and they have great difficulty finding work placements for their students. Besides, a number of MBO students suffer from study delays.” University students, on the other hand, are doing really well when it comes to studying, and have missed hardly any courses. “I have just received the figures for the students who started a master’s last September without having completed their batchelor’s and who therefore have to complete two programmes at the same time. They are doing great.”

In short: “One cannot compare the two,” Letschert feels. Adding that most of the MBO students study in their ‘own’ town, while university students often need to travel by public transport. “That is an additional concern. If you open higher education, you know that the pressure on public transport will increase.” 

VSNU chairman Pieter Duisenberg stated in Radio1 Journaal on Monday morning that he thinks it is not justified that MBO institutes are allowed to open one day a week, while universities are not. He points out that the universities – including the UM – provided face-to-face education to some degree until 15 December without creating infection hotspots. “So, we are able to do this in a controlled way.”

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