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18 June 2024

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‘We do not believe students wish to put other people in danger’

What will VU Amsterdam be doing to make sure infected students do not come to the campus? VU Amsterdam spokesperson Frauke van Goethem says it is primarily the responsibility of students themselves: ‘It is quite simply irresponsible to leave your home if you have Covid-19.’

Last week, it transpired that psychology students attended compulsory seminars while infected in order not to fall behind schedule in their studies. The assignment they would otherwise have had to do was said to be much more onerous. Van Goethem recognises that some infected students have not stayed at home, although she does not accept all the allegations recently made by students.

There are apparently students who come to the university despite being infected, to avoid falling behind schedule in their studies. Should the university not amend the obligation to attend, or indeed find another way of ensuring that this does not happen again?
“Unfortunately we are still in a critical situation where we have to continually adapt and keep the lines of communication open. So for lessons and lectures that are compulsory, you should discuss the matter with your programme department if you cannot come because of Covid restrictions. It is quite simply irresponsible to leave your home if you have Covid-19. We believe students will have no difficulty understanding this and will not wish to put other people in danger. Suppose you infect a vulnerable person. It would be completely indefensible.”

Many students and employees will undoubtedly say that it is irresponsible for teachers to give alternative assignments that cause students to feel that they are running the risk of falling behind in their studies. Or for students to think that they have less chance of passing when taking resits, so that they take the risk anyway. Should the university not intervene?
“Students who are unable to attend lessons or lectures due to medical or otherwise compelling reasons have the option of looking for a solution in consultation with their programme department, such as an alternative assignment. We do realise that this can place additional pressures on those students who have had Covid-19. On the other hand, this does mean they have the chance of avoiding falling behind schedule in their studies as much as possible.”

‘We are appealing to the sense of responsibility of each student and employee’

You mention medical or otherwise compelling circumstances, but students should in fact stay at home even if they have a cold. Can the university really continue to enforce compulsory attendance and yet still ask students to stay at home if they have symptoms or an infection?
“In the case of Covid-related symptoms, we do indeed say that you should stay at home. If this means missing part of your programme at which attendance is compulsory, such as a practical lesson, and you therefore run the risk of falling behind schedule in your studies, then it becomes a compelling reason, and we have to look for solutions.”

Are there still no specific plans to ensure that infected students do not come to the university?
“We continue to appeal to students to stay at home if they have any symptoms and to follow the precautionary measures laid down by the government. Any student who actually has Covid-19 must stay in quarantine until he or she has recovered. We believe students will have no difficulty understanding this.”

“At the same time, teachers will continue to do all they can to arrange alternative assignments where necessary. As you may know, we may not ask a person whether or not they have Covid-19. In this regard, we are appealing to the sense of responsibility of the student and employee in question. In exceptional cases, we can look for a different solution together with the Examination Board or other relevant parties.”

That sounds like a lot of hassle. Is it not predictable that some students would rather avoid all that hassle and simply come to the university even if they are infected?
“In cases where students have to miss large parts of their compulsory study programme because of Covid-related circumstances, the procedure is that the Examination Board and others look for solutions. This is in the interest of students and the quality of teaching alike.”

‘Leaving home while infected with Covid-19 is completely indefensible’

You are appealing to the sense of responsibility of each student if they are infected. Is it not the responsibility of the university to guarantee the safety of students and employees?
“Leaving home while infected with Covid-19 is completely indefensible. It is irresponsible, even if it means creating a difficult situation in which you have to miss part of your programme or an examination. Much as we would like to, it is impossible to give any guarantees in this crisis. We are doing everything we can to make sure that the campus is as safe as possible. We are trying to minimise the likelihood of infections. The basis of our efforts is the guidelines of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the recommendations issued by the Outbreak Management Team for the education sector. We continue to appeal to everyone who comes to the campus to observe the government guidelines.”

Are you planning on doing anything in terms of communication to ensure that every student knows who to contact if they get Covid-19 and also that they know they will not be penalised?
“Students will certainly not be penalised for having Covid-19. So we would like to repeat – talk with your programme department if you are facing the possibility of falling behind schedule because of Covid-19. Students have been emailed in the past weekend about this, and details about this are also available on the various Covid information pages for students. We will continue to emphasise this in our communications.”

Can you promise students that nobody will fall behind in their studies as a result of being infected by Covid-19?
“If there’s anything we have learned from this crisis, it is that nothing can be guaranteed. However, we will continue to do everything possible to provide good-quality teaching, even during this time, and to enter into discussions with students who are having problems as a result of being infected.”



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