Will the UIT be as big as the one from 2019? It remains to be seen. Photo: DUB

Universities hoping for introduction week without restrictions


Even though they're preparing themselves for every eventuality, universities in the Netherlands hope that first-year students will have a normal introduction week in September, without all the hassle caused by social distancing and other restrictions.

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Although vaccination is at full speed and the number of hospitalisations for Covid-19 have dropped significantly, so much so that the Dutch Minister of Health has just announced face masks will no longer be mandatory except on public transport, no one is entirely sure what the pandemic will look like at the start of the next academic year. Will students be able to organise massive parties again or will they still have to be careful about how many people gather in the same space?

For the time being, the Dutch government has given higher education institutions the green light to organise introduction weeks as they're used to, and that's exactly what they are doing. The plans are currently optimistic. “We’re hoping to be able to dust off our dancing shoes this summer”, writes the Avans University of Applied Sciences on its website.

However, they're working with “different scenarios” just in case, meaning they can easily change gears if the situation changes. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam wants to give students “at least one day when they can meet each other in person safely”.

But of course students would appreciate it if they could do a lot more than that. The programmes for introductions weeks across the Netherlands include treasure hunts, sports activities, comedy nights, silent discos and, of course, parties. The schedules are being devised to limit extreme crowding, just to be on the safe side.

Maastricht University will be asking students to provide a proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test result, or a proof of recovery from a previous Covid-19 infection as a pre-condition to take part in big parties. But that will be the only restriction: everything else would go on as usual. 

But some institutions prefer not to say much yet. That's the case of Utrecht University, which still hasn't announced anything about UIT, its introduction week. “We are preparing for a hybrid UIT, with both physical and online activities” says the university's website.

Certain aspects are likely to remain online. “Think about the practical aspects”, says the University of Twente: students won’t have to come to campus to register, for example. 

Some students may not be able to attend the introduction week in person, like international students stuck in their home countries due to Covid-related travel restrictions or having to quarantine once they arrive in the Netherlands. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is keeping an online programme “with information sessions and interactive workshops”  in reserve for such students,

At the Hotel School in The Hague, nearly half of first-year students come from abroad. “In some cases, we offer them the possibility of quarantining prior to the introduction week”, administrator Arend Hardoff says. “We did that in February too, in partnership with hotel chain Van der Valk. During the introduction week, students will be meeting and making friends for life, so it's key that everyone takes part.”

Current first-years
What about current freshmen, who missed the boat last year? Can they catch up on all the parties, tours and introductory talksthey missed during their own introduction week? Most schools are keeping the boat away from shore.

“We were still able to organise a reasonable amount of activities for this group at the beginning of the academic year”, says the University of Twente says. “We’re still going to poll students to see whether we should organise something after all and, if so, what kind of event it should be.”

Erasmus University Rotterdam is leaving this question up to the faculties. “The University is in talks with the faculties about the possibility of organising activities where current first-years could get to know each other.” But participation in the big introduction week events isn’t on the cards.

Current freshmen naturally have the option of participating as mentor, guide, crew, ‘mum and dad’ or whatever name volunteers are given in the various cities. This will give them a chance to soak up a little of the atmosphere.

Maastricht seems to be the exception. “We will be offering our second-year students, who unfortunately experienced INKOM mostly online, and upper-year students the possibility of taking part in the MECC parties and the opening, and other activities”, a spokesperson says. MECC is the congress centre where traditionally the big parties are held.

But Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam also has plans. “We are currently looking at the possibility of whether we can organise an introduction day under the heading ‘Reclaim the Campus’, when we will hopefully be able to celebrate the re-opening of the VU campus and give undergraduates a chance to meet each other.”

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