Corona pass looking likely, but universities foresee a lot of issues

Overarching university organisation Universiteiten van Nederland (UNL, formerly the VSNU) foresees a lot of practical issues if the outgoing government decides that the corona pass will be implemented in higher education.

It’s looking increasingly likely that the corona pass will soon be implemented in institutes of higher education. On Tuesday, the outgoing government sent a draft decision and a legislative proposal to the Dutch Lower House which would allow them to implement the pass. According to the proposal, only people who are vaccinated, recovered from Covid, or tested negatively for the virus will still be allowed inside institutes of higher education.

The corona pass option isn’t new; it was included in the emergency law of last year. However, the right to consent by the institutes’ participation bodies has been left out of this new proposal. That means that the outgoing government can decide to implement the pass and the university council has no say in it.

Impossible

UNL says that the outgoing government would be asking universities to do the impossible by implementing the pass. UNL spokesperson Ruben Puylaert says the problem is twofold: on the one hand, it’s practically impossible to check every single student at every single university location.

‘Universities aren’t festivals where you can let people in gradually’, says Puylaert. ‘There are hundreds of locations catering to hundreds of thousands of students. What happens is that a lot of people all have to go inside at once. That will lead to problems.’

Double education

On the other hand, universities are also expected to go back to full on-site teaching thanks to the corona pass. ‘But it will mean that one section of students will come to campus while another stays home, so unis would have to cater to both of them. That kind of double education is extremely hard to organise, and we can’t ask that of the institutes.’

However, the draft proposal does take exceptions into account. Students wouldn’t have to show their corona pass at exams or practical classes. ‘Vulnerable students’ who don’t have a pass should also be able to come to the university in person for coaching. 

However, in case of these exceptions, universities should take other actions to guarantee ‘an appropriate level of safety’.

On-site

While the exceptions make it look like universities have options, the UNL isn’t satisfied. ‘During the lockdown, we saw how mainly taking online classes negatively affected students’ well-being. It might work in some cases, but we feel that on-site, in-person education is essential for all students.’

The UNL says that the fact that there haven’t been any major Covid-19 outbreaks in higher education proves that on-site education can continue. They also say the vaccination level among students and staff is high and that many students have recovered from Covid. The organisation doesn’t feel that a corona pass in higher education is a proportional solution to lowering the high infection rate in the country.

If it does get implemented, universities won’t be able to check everyone’s status. The UNL therefore suggests randomly checking students. ‘If they do implement it, we’d like to talk to the ministry about how to make this work’, says Puylaert.

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