‘It feels safer when you know other students got tested’
Medical student Ilona Meuleman winces ever so slightly when a fellow student wearing protective equipment pushes a cotton swab up her nose. In just a few hours, she’ll know whether she has Covid or not. Or, since that’s what this is all about, whether she’ll be able to sit an exam in person later that day.
On Monday, the UG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences started a pilot to test students for Covid-19 before they sit an exam. Groningen is the first speed-testing location in the Netherlands specifically geared towards students. Next, they want to see how the speed testing can be used to allow students to return to on-site classes.
‘We came up with the idea for a speed-testing location back in October’, says UG rector Cisca Wijmenga. When the ministry of education and overarching university association VSNU asked the UG before the Christmas break to set up a pilot, the facility was up and running in no time.
The facility has been set up at the UG’s Facilities Management building, a stone’s throw from the Aletta Jacobs hall. There are three testing lanes, which can process 450 tests a day. For now, however, they’ll test no more than a hundred students, who will be pre-selected and emailed. Participating in the pilot is voluntary. Results take three hours.
Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, who visited Zernike on Monday, says the UG, Hanze, and Noorderpoort collaboration on the facility is an example for the rest of the country. ‘They did a thorough job setting everything up. The way they’re testing students before an exam or, in the next phase, before class, is what we want to see in the rest of the country as well.’
If this pilot is successful, the next step would be to test before practical classes or seminars. ‘I want to start testing on a large scale and give higher education and students some room to breathe. I want them to not just be able to sit exams, but to go back to classes at the university.’
‘I want to tell other districts to take a look at the collaboration that’s happening here. This is how it’s done. I hope the entire country learns something from Groningen.’
Dentistry student Sanjaya (21) is one of the students who signed up for the first round of testing. She has an exam Monday night and presented herself to be tested at Zernike at 9.30 in the morning.
‘I did hesitate when I first read the email. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to Zernike and back again before my exam. But in the end, I figured it wasn’t much trouble, so why not get tested? It also feels safer when you know that most students got tested, even if it’s voluntary.’
Sanjaya liked that she could be tested in the morning rather than just before the exam. ‘I’ve got time to go back and study, so I’m not really bothered by the test. I wouldn’t like it as much if I had to take an exam right now.’