Lectures on Saturday, exams in the evening: Dutch higher education kicks off with creative solutions amongst Covid-19

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Some say that out of constraint comes creativity, and as universities and colleges around the Netherlands have started their academic year amidst stringent Covid-19 regulations, it certainly looked that way. Corona has made the impossible possible, wrote De Volkskrant, and whilst the situation has been not been easy, its survey done this summer found that colleges and universities around the country are doing everything they can to offer as much (in-person) education as possible.

Creative changes
Among the new measurements there have been lectures on Saturday and exams in the evenings, while business conference rooms have been turned into classrooms. At half of the schools surveyed, students are staying in the classroom while teachers rotate between rooms – before corona it was the other way around. At the Amsterdam University of the Arts (AHK), where dance classes are running with half the number of participants, the choir performs from a distance, and the rest of the class is watching through a video connection. The next day the roles are reversed. All in all, a varied mix of measures has been taken to keep going in times of corona. Some common denominators can be identified at most schools.

Time
Of the 79 percent of universities and 83 percent of colleges that responded to the survey (the response of secondary vocational education (MBO) was too low to be included), many have shown a particular creative use of time this year. To help lower the number of people moving around in corridors, for example, lesson times at universities such as Inholland University of Applied Sciences have been extended beyond the more usual hours. In order to allow for better social distancing and put a smaller burden on public transport, lessons are being spread out over the day.

Space
Expectations have definitely been defied this year with regard to the use of space. The Design Academy in Eindhoven managed to convert a former Philips factory into classrooms, while Avans University of Applied Sciences has leased an empty building in Breda, to offer students a ‘safe physical space to be used for brainstorming sessions and other forms of creative education’, in a way that its own buildings cannot. Some schools, such as University College Roosevelt and University College Middelburg, are offering classes in the open air, to help students ‘think more freely’.

First-year students
Many institutions found that particularly first-year students, who are more likely to drop out, and need time and energy to adjust, a clearer structure and more social contact, are in need of more support. Thus, the introduction week, which plays a key role in getting freshmen settled in their universities, has been extended by Zuyd Hogeschool, which offers its first-year students various in-person activities during the first hundred days. Many schools have also set up a ‘buddy project’ in which freshmen are matched with older students to show them around. Student associations and fraternities have noted a sharp increase in membership applications, indicating that many new students are desperate to build a social life in their new towns.

Foreign students
Many universities are having to deal with a significant decrease in the number of foreign students. At Viaa for example, a small university of applied sciences in Zwolle (1,800 students), the programme for foreign students has been cancelled altogether. At most universities, exchanges abroad are not likely to take place this year and internships will have to be taken in the Netherlands instead of abroad, or replacement assignments will be substituting internships altogether. Although there some variation between colleges, with some expecting even more foreign students than before in the near future, the conclusion for now is that the overall ‘annual entry of students from all over the world seems to be over due to corona’.

Written by Femke van Iperen