Corona rules will be relaxed ‘only gradually’

Board: Still too many uncertainties

Corona rules will be relaxed ‘only gradually’

The UG continues to be cautious in relaxing the corona rules. There are still so many uncertainties, the board says, that it can only be done very gradually. ‘We understand that people are impatient, but we have to be very careful.’
By Giulia Fabrizi and Rob Siebelink
13 May om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 19 May 2020
om 9:47 uur.
May 13 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on May 19, 2020
at 9:47 AM.

Do you have a question? 

Every week, rector Cisca Wijmenga, board president Jouke de Vries, and board member Hans Biemans will be answering the most burning questions from the academic community.

Do you have a question for the board? Send a mail to uk@rug.nl

Student party Lijst Calimero argued for a limited reopening of study rooms, like they did in Rotterdam and Maastricht. Earlier, you said you didn’t want to do this. Have you changed your minds at all?

Jouke de Vries: ‘No, our position on this hasn’t changed. We did say we’d explore options to relax the rules after last Wednesday’s government press conference, but we’ll only be doing so gradually.

We asked the UB to set up a plan for a potential reopening, but there are so many things to take into account. We know so little about how the virus spreads exactly. We have to be very careful. Maastricht and Rotterdam have only allowed limited access to small groups of people, let’s not forget that.’

Hans Biemans: ‘If we were to have a limited reopening, it would be really difficult to determine who gets to go in and who doesn’t. Remember how busy the UB gets during the exam period? It’s not that we don’t want to help out students who really need it, but how do we determine who needs it the most?’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Not to mention the traffic. Students all come in on their bikes and park them close together. Before you know, it becomes impossible for them to keep their distance from each other. Then there are cleaners, security officers, monitors, etcetera. Reopening a UG building isn’t just a matter of unlocking the door. It’s not that simple.’

Employees, too, are wondering if the rules will be relaxed at the UG. Will people with private offices be allowed to work in them? Or, if they share an office with just a few colleagues, will they be allowed to rotate? 

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘The same rules apply to employees, not only because of the traffic. Again, we don’t know how the virus spreads. This morning, I read a scientific article that said the virus could spread through a ventilation system. We don’t know the exact movement of the aerosols and how this works. We also don’t know the role bathrooms play in the spread of the virus. I’m also seeing a lot of unnerving talk of a possible second wave of infections. We’re not taking that risk.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘This is what managers like to call a “wicked problem”: on the one hand, science can tell us very little about where we stand exactly. One the other, there is no political consensus about what we’re supposed to do. In the meantime, we have to make a decision. What that means for us is that we’re being really careful and strict in relaxing the rules.

We’ve started with a few lab rooms, but if the number of infections go up again, we’ll shut those down again. We have to be careful, and that can make people impatient. But even relaxing the rules a little takes a lot of preparation. Like Rutte said: Better safe than sorry.’

What’s happening with the lab rooms? What kind of measures are being taken?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘We’re doing pilots, basically. One pilot we’re running at the faculties is using guiding lines on the floor. Safety Region Groningen also has clear regulations, and they have to approve of everything. Everyone who works in the building has to be registered.’

Jouke de Vries: ‘We’ve implemented these rules at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) and Medical Sciences, where they needed it the most. Small groups have gone back to work in a few labs in shifts at both faculties. At FSE, it’s about 25 percent of the people who normally need to use a laboratory and at the medical faculty, there are two shifts of 30 percent of the people. Both faculties’ deans are happy with the measures, but we’ll be keeping an eye on things. If anything goes wrong, we’ll have to scale back the measures.’

Do the people have to wear face masks?

Hans Biemans: ‘Funnily enough, the safety regulations for running tests in the labs are much stricter than anything in place to curtail the virus. So the safety there is guaranteed.’

The UG will continue online education into the next academic year. One student asked us the following question about this: I’m going to study in Amsterdam in January of 2021. If all classes continue to be online, I can already move there. But if I still have classes with mandatory attendance, I can’t. What am I supposed to do?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘That sounds like a question the faculty should be answering. The board doesn’t get involved in the planning and scheduling of education. All we said is that we’ll have a hybrid form of education.’

But you can give us some answers as to when actual classes will begin again, and for whom?

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘Unfortunately, we can no more answer that question than students or staff can. It all remains to be seen to what extent we’ll be able to teach actual classes after the summer. I can imagine we’ll have to prioritise some classes over others. First-year students who don’t know anything yet might benefit more from actual classes than third-years who are familiar with the university and the system.’

Some international students aren’t sure they can even come back to the Netherlands after the summer. Would there be a way of making classes that are taught in person available online as well?

Jouke de Vries: ‘The most important thing we need to guarantee is the level of academic education. We’ve asked faculties to make it available online as much as possible. We’ve also asked them to categorise what they’ll be able to do in person. If that’s possible, we might be able to do it. 

We’ll have to make a decision to reduce uncertainty, that’s true. I understand that people are uncertain, but we just need a little more time before we make any irreversible decisions. When that moment is I can’t say, as we have to discuss it further.’

Finally: The UG sent more than six thousand employees a chocolate bar in a pretty wrapper. It was a nice gesture, and people showed their appreciation on social media. Who came up with this idea?

Jouke de Vries: ‘I think it was Cisca and Marion Stolp with Human Resources.’

Hans Biemans: ‘Last Wednesday’s government press conference spoke of relaxation, which a lot of people need right now. Unfortunately, higher education hasn’t been able to relax the rules just yet; they’re discussing it next month. So the chocolate came at the right time for our employees.’

Cisca Wijmenga: ‘It was really great to see that such a small gesture can have such an impact. Colleagues were especially posting funny stuff on Twitter. I haven’t received one yet myself, come to I think of it.’

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