A Meets ceremony or an ‘office degree’: graduating is different this year

A graduation ceremony in the old style for theology master students.

A Meets ceremony or an ‘office degree’

Graduating is very different this year

Students graduating from the UG this year are saying a sober goodbye. Most faculties have postponed graduation ceremonies until after the summer.
8 July om 11:50 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
July 8 at 11:50 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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Door Anne de Vries

8 July om 11:50 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

July 8 at 11:50 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.
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Hitting the close button on his Google Meets window after he’d defended his thesis was a weird feeling for philosophy student Wouter Wiersma (25). He’d just graduated, but he was alone in his room. ‘I started studying in Groningen in 2013, and this is how it ends. I never could have imagined.’ 

He didn’t attend a ceremony with his friends and family at the Academy building or the MartiniPlaza. Because of the corona crisis, most departments have postponed their events until September or October, or they organised something online. 

Office degree

Students will be able to retrieve their diploma, the so-called ‘office degree’. But the arts faculty warns that since they have a backlog from the past few months, it can take a while for them to print and sign every diploma. 

At FEB, they were planning for a new pilot for master students, where every student would get their degrees at once, with drinks afterwards. ‘But corona put an end to that’, says vice-dean Manda Broekhuis. 

The planned group ceremony for bachelor students at the Duisenberg building has also been cancelled. There are some alternative options, but nothing’s been decided yet. Students are generally understanding, says Broekhuis. ‘We have to be realistic about our options.’ 

Cap and gown

Most other faculties don’t have concrete plans yet, either. Will they do everything online, or are they going for a mix of on- and offline events? BSS, Campus Fryslân, and the University College Groningen did decide that the opening ceremony in September will take place online. 

Campus Fryslân is still exploring options for an offline, small-scale graduation ceremony in September. Under normal circumstances, the UCG has its ceremony in July, with students dressing up in cap and gown, but this, too, has been cancelled. 

Second chance

Arjan Schelhaas (20) is a student of computer science. He hopes he can go to the ceremony next year. If not, his master will be a second chance. 

Corona has left an indelible mark on his graduation. In March, he was one of the last few people in the Harmonie building. He needed access to the server to finish his thesis at home. ‘It’s not exactly fun, but it’s definitely an interesting experience.’ 

Summer ceremony

Last Friday the Summer ceremony, which closes out the academic year, also took place online. Rector Cisca Wijmenga addressed a small group of people in the Senate room, and the winners of the GUF-100 Awards, the Wierenga-Rengerink Dissertation Prize, and the Gratama Award had all recorded videos. 

Half a million in debt with the government

‘It’s like I made a deal with the devil’

Half a million in debt with the government

For two North Macedonian students, a government scholarship was the only way to make their dream of studying at the UG come true. But the terms of the contract make it more like a nightmare.
7 July om 15:31 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
July 7 at 15:31 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.


Anne de Vries

Door Anne de Vries

7 July om 15:31 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

July 7 at 15:31 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.
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First-year UG student Stefan (20) wanted nothing more than to leave his home country of North Macedonia, where he says government corruption is rampant. He planned to go to university abroad, but when his father was seriously injured in an accident, his family was no longer eligible for a loan. Suddenly, he needed that corrupt government to pay for his ticket out. 

‘It feels like I made a deal with the devil’, says Stefan. The North Macedonian government grants full-ride scholarships to excellent students that are accepted to a top university, like the UG. They get money for tuition, yearly return plane tickets and a monthly stipend for September through May. 

Ten times the money

The catch: when you’ve completed the programme you have to return to work for the government for double the time you spent on your studies. And if you decide not to return, or you’re unable to finish the programme in the time the university sets for it, you have to pay back ten times the amount of the scholarship within one year.   

I had to pass six exams in my first period in a new country

For Stefan, tuition is around nine thousand euros a year and he gets 750 euros a month for nine months each year of his bachelor, which is three years in total. That amounts to nearly fifty thousand euros, which means he would owe his government nearly half a million euros. 

To make things worse, he couldn’t start his classes at the UG until the second block. The first scholarship payment, which was supposed to cover the tuition costs and prove he had enough money to live on for his visa application, didn’t arrive until halfway through September. ‘I had to pass six exams in my first exam period in a new country. It was impossible.’

Breather

Since he was also dealing with the stress of having to find a roof over his head and adjusting to a new country and study environment, he shut down. ‘It sucked all the ambition out of me.’ 

Stefan had missed the first weeks when everyone found their friend group, so he had no network to fall back on. The university shutdown has actually been a welcome breather to focus on his studies. 

But now that summer vacation is nearing, he has to reapply for the same scholarship for next academic year and wait for the payment in late August or September. ‘It’s the same stress all over again’, he says. His experiences have only strengthened his belief that he is better off abroad. ‘I’ve lost faith in the country that’s supposedly helping me.’ 

Ineffective

At the same time, he can’t afford to lose the scholarship, so he’s talking to UKrant under a pseudonym, as is his fellow countryman Alen (20), a second-year student who’s in Groningen on the same scholarship. ‘I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, but the government is just highly ineffective’, says Alen. 

I want to go back and make a positive change to the system

For instance, he explains, every individual payment has to be signed off, in person, by the Minister of Education. If he is on vacation, or not in the office because of the coronavirus, the payment may come in late, or not at all. 

Alen has also had his ‘moments of absolute panic’, he says. ‘Each exam I think, this will determine whether I make it or not.’ Not only will he have to graduate in three years, he also needs to get a minimum number of ECTS to keep his visa. ‘I felt really isolated and had to deal with feelings of depression and anxiety.’ 

Making a change

Still, his experiences also motivate him. ‘I have found my purpose in life. I want to go back home and make a positive change to the system. Only now that I’ve had a taste of an actual functioning society, can I help change things.’ 

Fortunately, his payout last year came in right on time for the tuition deadline in August. That did take some work: he and his mom alternately went to the Ministry of Education and Science in the capital and nagged the same two people in charge of the scholarships every day. This summer, they’ll execute the same plan. ‘You just have to hope they remember your name and put your file on the top of the pile.’ 

‘It’s very clear our country doesn’t want us back’

Photo: Markus Winkler via Unsplash

Chinese students stranded in Groningen

‘It’s very clear our country doesn’t want us back’

Because the Chinese government allows very few flights into the country, ticket prices have soared. Hundreds of Chinese UG students don’t have the money to go home.
16 June om 13:12 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
June 16 at 13:12 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.


Anne de Vries

Door Anne de Vries

16 June om 13:12 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

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June 16 at 13:12 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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‘I’ve seen ticket prices as high as ten thousand euros. That’s practically the same as refusing us entry.’ Chinese UG student Sam Hao is angry. Many of his fellow students want to go back to their home country, but they can’t afford to. 

China doesn’t openly block its citizens abroad from returning during the corona crisis, but it has capped the number of flights to the country, to the same effect. It’s been dubbed the ‘five-one policy’: one flight via one route by one airline, per country, per week. As a result, ticket prices have skyrocketed.

‘It’s shameful for the government to do this’, says Chen Yin, another UG student. ‘There are so many Chinese people overseas, the government can’t be excused for trying to block them from coming home.’ 

Disappointed and upset

Sam and Chen feel abandoned by their government. ‘It’s made me very angry, disappointed, upset’, says Chen. ‘It stings me when I look around Groningen and see Dutch people socialising. I had plans with friends in China and now I don’t know when I’ll be allowed by my own country to go home.’ 

Because they fear backlash from the Chinese community, both Sam and Chen use a pseudonym for this article. It’s risky being critical of Chinese policy, says Sam, who read the threats in a student WeChat group following an UKrant article on the Hong Kong protests in November. ‘You’re seen as a traitor, but we don’t want to be the enemy.’

I don’t know when I’ll be allowed by my own country to go home

Still, they’ve noticed that’s how they’re viewed in China. ‘They say we’re selfish for wanting to go home’, says Chen. Comments she’s read on the internet are very hostile. People are scared that returning countrymen will bring the coronavirus with them, and because they are high-risk, they should pay the higher ticket fee.

Even if they do manage to enter China, they have to stay in a hotel for fourteen days and cover those costs themselves. ‘It’s very clear they don’t want us back’, says Sam. 

He himself has no plans to return as long as Xi Jinping is president, but he feels for the other Chinese that are stuck abroad. Of the more than eight hundred Chinese students in Groningen, only a hundred have made it home. 

Face masks

For those that are still here, the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands has provided face masks. Chen picked them up, even though she says she’d ‘rather be able to afford to go home than be given a thousand masks’. 

Sam didn’t pick up the masks. He believes it’s like sticking a band-aid on a bullet wound. ‘It’s useless. It’s an alternative to offering affordable plane tickets, but it sends a message that we’d better find a way to survive by ourselves in a foreign country.’ 

The Chinese student association in Groningen, ACSSG, volunteered to help distribute the masks among students in April. But Sam didn’t trust the Google form he had to use to sign up. ‘Maybe I’m too sensitive,’ he says, ‘but it asked for all your personal info, like your student and Chinese ID numbers and your address. I immediately think they were spying.’ 

We’d better find a way to survive by ourselves

It’s just a feeling, he says, but in China everything is somehow related to the government, even a student association. Plus, he’d already ordered his own two hundred face masks from China directly, and donated half of them to the UMCG. 

Considerate

Ruiqi Shi, the president of ACSSG, acknowledges that the five-one policy has been very inconvenient for the Chinese students in Groningen. ‘A lot of them want to go home, but they can’t afford to.’ It’s also causing problems with rent and visas, both for students who can’t leave the Netherlands, as well as those who now aren’t able to return to Groningen. But blaming the government? That’s a step too far. 

‘It’s a special time, and we should all be more considerate,’ says Shi. ‘The government has to make decisions for reasons we don’t really know. We shouldn’t complain about things we don’t totally understand.’ 

There are other factors at play as well, he says. Shi has heard about Chinese students in America who can’t get direct flights to China because of the ongoing tensions between the two countries. ‘So they have to fly via Amsterdam, which also increases the ticket demand.’ That further hikes up the price. 

Lonely

Chen wants to wait until the price of a ticket drops to a thousand euros. But that might mean she’ll be waiting until October, because the five-one policy will probably last until then.

She’s tried to talk about her situation in Groningen with friends in China, but they don’t really believe her. They think Chinese living abroad have nothing to complain about. ‘But I just want to go home’, says Chen. ‘I feel lonely.’ 

Get a three-month tuition refund

Delayed due to corona? Get a three-month tuition refund

Students receiving Dutch student finance who obtain their masters degree between September 2020 and January 2021, will be refunded three months of tuition to compensate for any study delay due to the coronavirus.
19 May om 9:46 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
May 19 at 9:46 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.


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Door Anne de Vries

19 May om 9:46 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

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May 19 at 9:46 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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For university students this amounts to 535 euro. If you’re registered at DUO and currently receive student finance according to the regulations for international students, the compensation will be automatically transferred before 31 March 2021. DUO will contact you if they’re missing any personal details.

Students in the last year of their programme who receive a supplementary grant in July, August or September 2020 also have a right to compensation as high as 1500 euros.

Because of the corona measures, internships have been postponed or cancelled, some courses can’t be taught online and research and thesis projects have been halted. The Dutch government aims to ease some of the financial consequences this has for students.

What will we be allowed to do from May 11 on?

What will we be allowed to do from May 11 on?

The Netherlands will slowly be exiting out of the intelligent lockdown, the government announced during Wednesday’s press conference. From May 11 on, every month will see new steps dismantling the measures put in place over the last six weeks.
7 May om 11:12 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
May 7 at 11:12 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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Door Anne de Vries

7 May om 11:12 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

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May 7 at 11:12 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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The first changes are coming up on May 11. Next to the opening of elementary schools as announced on April 21, the so-called ‘contact professions’ such as hairdressers, masseurs and driving instructors will be allowed to open their doors.

Though only on appointment, and only if they submit all their clients to questionnaires about their health beforehand. Also on May 11, everyone can resume outside sports at 1.5m.

And, libraries may open if they provide for the mandatory 1.5m distance. What this means for the University Library is too early to say, according to UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker.

30 people

Then on June 1 secondary schools, just as museums, cinemas and restaurants can start up again. For the last three, only a maximum of 30 people is allowed inside, including staff, and only on reservation. Terraces may open if they keep the 1.5m.

Public transportation will also resume their normal timetable, though it will be mandatory for all passengers to wear face masks, as the 1.5m is harder to maintain.

The 30 people maximum will be scaled up to 100 people from July 1 on. This means that churches, funeral homes and conference halls can also open their doors.

Gyms and sportclubs

Lastly, the government hopes to reopen gyms and other indoor sports clubs starting from September. The next phase would be to look at events and large-scale gatherings. During Thursday’s parliament briefing the government said they may forbid all such events until a corona-vaccine is on the market.

Alongside their month-by-month plan the government will be scaling up corona-testing abilities, starting with the elderly, health professionals and teachers, and possibly all people with symptoms from June 1.

Scale down

Hopefully, said Prime Minister Rutte, this also means that we can ultimately scale down the ‘stay at home’ order to ‘stay at home if you have symptoms’, resulting in less working from home.

All changes, pressed Rutte, are under the provision that the infection rate and the amount of patients on the ICU keep decreasing. ‘We made this possible together, but we also have to make sure it lasts, together.’

‘Sixty seconds to recharge your battery’

Students start ‘Lockdown in 60’

‘Sixty seconds to recharge your battery’

To combat the creeping physical and emotional isolation of all the corona measures around the world, three UG students started a new initiative on Instagram called ‘Lockdown in 60’. In sixty seconds, users share a glimpse of their life during the corona crisis.
30 April om 12:16 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
April 30 at 12:16 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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30 April om 12:16 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

April 30 at 12:16 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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The logo of ‘Lockdown in 60’

The account features snapshots into the lives of, amongst others, the head of an intensive care unit in Barcelona, a women’s rights activist in Nigeria, and an Egyptian UG student trying to find his way home from the Netherlands. 

‘We really want their stories to recharge your battery’, says Benedek Takács (21) from Hungary, one of the three founders of the initiative. ‘Usually this crisis shows a lot of bad faces, but a happy moment can encourage you.’  

The three second-year liberal arts and sciences students were originally working on entirely different projects for their course on narratives in conflict. Dutch student Julia Boot (21) was producing a podcast on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Spanish-Canadian Kolya Dam de Nogales (19) was working with Takács on a documentary on the cultural differences between Transsylvania and Romania. But the corona crisis upended their plans. Traveling to any of these locations was no longer possible.  

Getting home also proved a challenge for them. Boot tried to find her way back to the UK, but got stranded with her sister in Amsterdam. Dam de Nogales had to pack his bag within the hour to catch one of the last flights to Barcelona. 

‘But with this project we want to not just focus on the hardships’, says Dam de Nogales. ‘We want to complement the numbers with the human story, show the beautiful moments and allow people to share their thoughts.’ 

One beautiful moment has really stuck with the team. A woman from Cyprus proudly proclaims to the camera how she has created 4,000 protective face shields for healthcare professionals. She’d set out to make a hundred. ‘She said it just felt good to tell someone she achieved this’, says Takács. ‘She was grateful to share it.’

Another couple in Cyprus now realised they had all the time they needed to finally do some gardening, creating their own ‘rhythmic gardening technique’, dancing around the garden, shovel in hand. 

Other clips are a little more serious. One features the head of an intensive care unit of a hospital in Barcelona. She’s driving to work, and with a mask suspended from her chin she explains this is the only time she could find to film the video. ‘This is a normal day for her, everything about it shouts this is her daily life, and she shows a real, sort of, tired determination’, says Boot. 

‘These sixty seconds of your day tell you a lot about the context of people’s lives’, says Boot. While we’re all experiencing the consequences of the coronavirus, how we’re experiencing them is a little different for everyone. Dam de Nogales realised this when an Italian friend asked him to stop talking about the virus: it was just too emotional. 

‘This way people do trust us with their emotions, but they’re in charge of what they share’, says Takács. ‘And hopefully we can cultivate some empathy and diversity.’

Plus, says Boot, they wanted to feel less powerless themselves. ‘This crisis was such a shock and really overwhelming.’ And this project has helped them stay distracted, says Dam de Nogales. ‘Our daily meetings have been a nice way of keeping us sane.’

Most Dutch corona measures prolonged until May 20

Prime minister: ‘Better safe than sorry’

Most Dutch corona measures prolonged until May 20

Most measures of the Dutch ‘intelligent lockdown’ will stay in effect until May 20, prime minister Rutte said during Tuesday’s press conference. The changes concern primary education and large-scale events.

22 April om 10:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
April 22 at 10:10 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.


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22 April om 10:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

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April 22 at 10:10 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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Restaurants and hairdressers will stay closed, but elementary schools and day-care facilities will reopen on May 11, after the May holidays. Secondary schools are expected to follow in June.

The Dutch government has decided to reopen the schools for children up to and including the age of 12, since research has shown that child to parent transmission of the coronavirus is limited. Letting children return to school, possibly in rotating shifts, will also relieve pressure on parents working from home. 

All large-scale events, such as festivals and professional football, have been cancelled until September 1. 

Fewer ICU patients

Despite the significant and consistent drop in the number of patients in intensive care units, the government has decided that most of the measures will stay in effect. ‘It’s best to be as safe as possible now, to avoid being sorry later’, said Rutte. 

On Tuesday, a total number of 1,087 patients were in ICUs across the country, which is below the bar of 1,150, excluding emergency capacity. 

Rutte called on all 17 million citizens to work from home as much as possible, to only go outside for groceries or working out by yourself, and to keep a distance of 1.5 metres from others. Anyone going outside with three or more people without respecting the 1.5-metre rule can still be fined. 

Higher education

The Dutch government doesn’t expect any changes to the summer vacation schedule for primary and secondary education. They have not stated anything concerning higher education such as universities and vocational programmes. Nor did they mention anything about the borders and travel possibilities. 

What these measures will mean for the university is unclear. The UG has already cancelled all physical education until August 31.

The situation in the Netherlands will be assessed on a rolling basis, and the government will announce any new steps in the week before May 20.

Fewer students in need of psychological guidance

Fewer students in need of psychological guidance

The waitlist for an intake session with a psychologist at the Student Service Centre (SSC) has been significantly reduced. Some students can now get an appointment within one week; at the peak of this academic year, the wait time was nine weeks.
14 April om 10:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
April 14 at 10:40 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.


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Door Anne de Vries

14 April om 10:40 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:20 uur.
Anne de Vries

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April 14 at 10:40 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:20 PM.
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The SSC had expected a large influx of new applications as the corona crisis caused more stress and anxiety in the UG’s student population. But the expected numbers have not materialised. This new trend surprised the centre, says student psychologist Eva Slot, who evaluates all new applications.

There are various reasons why students are now staying away from the SSC. Many students have gone home to their parents and may not want to do any sessions from home for privacy reasons. Others may want to wait until they can have their sessions face to face again.

Less stress

‘But we’ve also heard of students who feel like a weight’s been lifted off their shoulders and think they can do without a session for a while’, says Slot. Due to the corona measures, some of these students experience less stress from social interactions, and because of the uncertaintywithin the university about classes and exams, they may have fewer deadlines and obligations. ‘Some of the pressure has let up.’

However, the SSC is keeping a close eye on what will happen in the long term. ‘Once everything starts back up again at full speed, this may be extra stressful for the students.’

I’ve left Groningen and my room is sitting empty. What are my rights?

5 questions

My room is sitting empty now. What are my rights?

Many students have left Groningen to wait out the corona crisis with their family, leaving most of their belongings behind in their rooms. What are your rights if you can’t pay rent or want to cancel your contract?

8 April om 11:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
April 8 at 11:01 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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8 April om 11:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

April 8 at 11:01 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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Can my landlord evict me if I can’t make rent? 

No. The Dutch government has released a statement that a landlord cannot evict you if you can’t make rent due to the coronavirus. You also cannot be disconnected from water, gas, or electricity if you don’t pay the bills. But the municipality of Groningen and the Groningen Student Union (GSb) advise students to contact their landlord to come to a specific agreement. 

Can anyone help me with enforcing these agreements? 

It’s harder to assert your rights with private landlords than it is with housing corporations. If anything happens and you’re not sure how to handle it, Jan Willem Leeuwma, chair of the GSb, says the union’s housing team and legal helpdesk can give you advice on what to do. But the most important thing, Leeuwma says, is to always have any agreements you make with your landlord in writing, so neither party can go back on their word. 

Can I cancel my contract before the agreed-upon term?

Unless otherwise agreed upon with your landlord, you’ll have to give at least one and at most three months’ notice before moving. Students with short-stay contracts can’t cancel them early, unless they rent from SSH or Groningse Panden. While not legally responsible for housing, the UG has agreed to cover the cost of the vacancies for these corporations. 

However, such deals cannot be made with private landlords, says UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker. The GSb is currently in contact with other short-stay parties to help students in this situation and change the terms of such contracts in the future. 

In the case of a temporary lease, the government has decided that if your lease ends within the crisis period, it can be extended for another temporary period. Normally such a lease is either ended or made permanent.  

What do I do with my belongings if I cancel my contract? 

Can your landlord just throw your stuff out? The short answer is yes. As soon as your contract has ended, the room and its contents fall back into the possession of the landlord. ‘While it wouldn’t be considerate at all, they’re within their rights to do so’, says Leeuwma. It’s up to you to find a way to move out your things and perhaps store them somewhere until you return to Groningen. 

Why doesn’t the Netherlands just freeze the rent for a while?

Several countries in Europe, like France and Ireland, have introduced a rent-free period. The Netherlands hasn’t done this. Leeuwma thinks this is because of the trickle-down effect. ‘If renters don’t pay, landlords may go broke themselves and have to give up their properties. Especially in such a tight market as Groningen, this could be detrimental in the future when all those new students come to look for a room.’ 

Broke because of corona? Pay your tuition in May

Broke because of corona? Pay your tuition in May

If students can’t pay tuition on Thursday because of the coronavirus, the UG will delay the payment to May. They’re looking into a different arrangement for students in financial trouble who’ve already paid the full amount
26 March om 12:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
March 26 at 12:59 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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26 March om 12:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
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March 26 at 12:59 PM.
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Student accounts also won’t be blocked if they can’t pay Thursday’s instalment because of coronavirus consequences, says Sander van den Bos, head of student information and administration.

‘We understand that a lot of student jobs have dissipated, and we want to let them know that we haven’t forgotten them’.

New arrangements

Students will receive an email if the collection fails on Thursday to tell them about the new arrangement. If they still have trouble making the payment in May, the university will make arrangements based on the individual student’s situation.

Though if a large group of students has similar troubles, they can design a more generic approach. ‘So it’s important that students still email us at study@rug.nl, either before or after the collection, so that we know the scope of the problem’, says Van den Bos.

The coronavirus measures may cause other problems outside of a student’s influence, such as delays or the cancellation of courses that can’t be offered online. In this case the university considers using the Graduation Fund to compensate for financial repercussions.

No reimbursement of tuition

So far the university does not think the change to online education is cause for reimbursing part of the tuition. ‘We’re trying to form the classes as well as possible, though in a different shape than before’, says UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker.

It is a point of national concern and might result in a national arrangement, as in the case of the BSA.

For both the BSA and the payments, students have to provide a clear link to consequences of the coronavirus, ‘but these can be very diverse’, says Bakker.

Continuation of education

With these measures the university wants to make sure that students experience as few consequences as possible from the coronavirus. ‘It’s important that everyone can continue to take part in education’, says Bakker.

‘We don’t have an answer for everything yet, but we’re learning day by day’, says Bakker, ‘and we’re working very hard to take some of the insecurity away from the students.’

Why the Netherlands is not on lockdown (yet)

‘This is typical Dutch pragmatism’

Why the Netherlands is not on lockdown (yet)

With more and more European countries imposing complete lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Dutch are dubbed stubborn for not doing the same. What’s their rationale?
24 March om 11:02 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
March 24 at 11:02 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:19 PM.


Anne de Vries

Door Anne de Vries

24 March om 11:02 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:19 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

March 24 at 11:02 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:19 PM.
Anne de Vries

Anne de Vries

Studentredacteur
Volledig bio
Student editor
Full bio

It was as if the coronavirus hadn’t touched the Netherlands at all, this past weekend. Granted, the sun was out and everyone wanted to get some air after working from home all week. But to many a health professional’s horror, people decided to throw caution to the wind, ignore the calls for social distancing and flock to the beaches, markets and parks.

Even though the Dutch government had forbidden large gatherings and closed schools and restaurants, it had stopped short of going in complete lockdown. So legally, people were still allowed to go to beaches, markets and parks.

According to Jan Maarten van Dijl, microbiologist at the UMCG, this speaks to the Dutch sense of autonomy. ‘We’re used to doing our own thing without too much government interference’.

New measures

Then, this Monday evening, after seeing the images of crowded beaches, the government prohibited all gatherings of three or more people who don’t respect the 1.5 meter distance, if they aren’t members of the same household. This goes until at least June 1. Mayors and police can now fine people who break these rules up to 400 euros.

We’re used to doing our own thing without government interference

Almost a month after the first patient in the Netherlands was diagnosed with COVID-19, the tally nears the five thousand. The government has gradually imposed more measures. From calling on everyone to stop shaking hands, to closing schools and restaurants, to shutting the borders to non-EU nationals and now fining gatherings of more than three people. But still there’s no lockdown.

Instead, the Netherlands has chosen a different approach, as prime minister Mark Rutte stated in his speech on March 16: that of ‘maximum control’, to protect the economy from crashing, and the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

Herd immunity

In that same speech, Rutte introduced the term of group, or herd, immunity.

Most scientists think it is unlikely that you can get the coronavirus twice. This means that those who have had the virus are now immune and can no longer infect others. They are the herd, forming a protective wall around the vulnerable people who have not yet been infected. ‘If a person can infect fewer than one other, the virus will flame out’, explains Anke Huckriede, vaccinologist at the UMCG.

‘Immunity to a virus is always the end goal’, she says. ‘But you need a large percentage of the population to have been infected with a virus to reach this immunity’.

And the only way to achieve that is to have people interact. Madness, as the critical voices from abroad say? Or a wise decision?

Lasting solution

Huckriede stresses that it’s not like we’ve all become guinea pigs in one big government experiment. ‘A vaccine would create the same immunity, but we don’t have one yet and it may be months or years away before we do.’

Emotionally, both Van Dijl and Huckriede want nothing more than to protect everyone and lock them inside their homes. But they agree that the measures the Dutch government has put in place are the most rational ones to ‘flatten the curve’ and spread the pressure on the healthcare system.

If we go into lockdown, we’d need to wait for a vaccine, a lasting solution

‘It’s realistic that a lot of people will get infected’, says Van Dijl. A lockdown will only defer the problem. ‘This situation won’t have changed after a lockdown ends, so the spikes of cases will resurface with the people.’

Only herd immunity, either through natural infection or a vaccine, could help us out of this situation, agrees Huckriede. ‘So if we go into lockdown,
we should be prepared that this could take a year or longer, because we then
need to wait for that vaccine, for that lasting solution.’

Dutch naïveté

The decision to go into lockdown should not be made lightly, both experts say. ‘With any measure, you have to calculate how long you can sustain it,’ says Huckriede, ‘and we have to be rational about the repercussions and the economic consequences of a lockdown.’

So Dutch society is still operating, though on the back burner. ‘This is typical Dutch pragmatism’, says Van Dijl.

But a lot of other countries frown upon what they see as Dutch naïveté. And to many people, it is unsettling that scientists don’t seem to agree on the right procedure. Which approach is best?

You can pull at the helm, but the ship won’t change course immediately

All scientists are confronted with the same numbers and the same unknowns, says Huckriede. ‘And like in all groups of people, there are optimists and pessimists in science.’

Van Dijl agrees. ‘Everyone had to anticipate on this unique situation, but nobody knew how fast the virus would spread and what routes it would take. Only time will tell who was right.’

Changing course

The results of the Dutch measures will become visible in the coming week, Van Dijl hopes. ‘You have to think of it as steering a ship. You can pull at the helm, but that doesn’t mean the ship will change course immediately.’

Still, PM Rutte said during Monday’s press conference that they were practically out of options before a complete lockdown.

‘It really depends on the behaviour of the people’, says Van Dijl. ‘So more importantly than the whole conversation about herd immunity, we all have to be rational and respect the limits put in place for our safety.’

Campus Fryslân not very popular among students just yet

197 registered this year

Campus Fryslân not very popular among students yet

This academic year, fewer students registered for programmes at the Campus Fryslân than the RUG had expected. According to the latest poll, only 197 students registered, when the university expected 605.
29 January om 11:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:18 uur.
January 29 at 11:11 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:18 PM.


Anne de Vries

Door Anne de Vries

29 January om 11:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:18 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

January 29 at 11:11 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:18 PM.
Anne de Vries

Anne de Vries

Studentredacteur
Volledig bio
Student editor
Full bio

The province of Friesland, which has allocated almost 18 million euros for the campus, is asking for an explanation. The goal for the campus is to have a thousand students by 2023.

Campus Fryslân, the eleventh and youngest RUG faculty, has been running seven of the eleven planned programmes since 2018: six master programmes and a bachelor that was named top programme this year. 

Plan of attack

The province wants a new plan of attack for the campus this month. Campus Fryslân spokesperson Engelien Reitsma says the new plan is in its final stages. 

She also says it’s a matter of perception. ‘The number are definitely going in the right direction. The number of students in the bachelor has doubled, and we’re also on track for next year.’ 

Reitsma thinks that having a dedicated building in the Beursgebouw in Leeuwarden has contributed to this. The Beursgebouw officially opened its doors in November. ‘Prospective student can come and see what it’s like here, instead of only having a pamphlet.’ 

Subsidies

Because of the disappointing registration numbers, the province has paid out less than the promised 18 million euros. The rest of the funds will be deferred to the future. Reitsma says the subsidy isn’t just dependent on student numbers, though. ‘The subsidy also supports the research at the campus and all other activities we organise here.’ 

The plans state that the RUG will have to stay in Leeuwarden for at least fifteen years. During that time, the university is also financially responsible for any consequences of the low student numbers. 

Reitsma says it’s difficult to determine why the numbers are so low. It might have to do with the campus’ late start due to the programmes still having to go through the accreditation process. This means recruitment also got a late start. ‘But what we’re doing, we’re doing well’, says Reitsma. ‘The board of directors has faith in us.’

Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Groningen iGEM team wins gold medal for QR code made of bacteria

More than three hundred participants in iGEM finale

Groningen wins gold for QR code made of bacteria

On Monday, a QR code grown from bacteria won the RUG team a gold medal in the iGEM finale. iGEM is an international competition for genetically engineered ‘machines’.
6 November om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:18 uur.
November 6 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:18 PM.

Anne de Vries

Door Anne de Vries

6 November om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:18 uur.
Anne de Vries

By Anne de Vries

November 6 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:18 PM.

‘We weren’t one hundred percent sure if we’d met all the requirements, so we’re really happy and proud’, says life science and technology student Lieke van Iersel (21), who is on the Groningen team. 

The gold medal doesn’t mean they actually won, by the way, just that they have exceeded expectations in the competition. Fifty-six other teams also got a gold medal. The total number of participating teams is three hundred. Seven of them were from the Netherlands. 

Van Iersel says the competition was very friendly. ‘We are all just scientists who are really passionate about synthetic biology. We could just criticise each other’s data.’ 

Bio ink

The RUG team has been working on their organic QR code since February. They made their own bio ink from bacteria. They modified a 3D printer to print the ink as a QR code on a little plate with food for the bacteria. The QR code doesn’t reveal itself unless the user follows a specific set of instructions, which means the invention could be useful for transmitting sensitive information.  

The QR code can also be made out of bio-sensors, which could then be used to detect rotten meat. You’d only have to scan the code to find out whether a product is safe. ‘We’ve been able to show all the fun things you can do with genetic modification’, says Van Iersel. ‘Everyone knows what QR codes and 3D printers are.’ 

The RUG team’s project isn’t finished yet. Over the next few weeks, Van Iersel and her colleagues will teach high school students about genetic modification. They’re also looking for new team members for next year’s competition.

By Translation by Sarah van Steenderen