Last week the education ministers from the three language communities in Belgium decided that the new academic year, for everyone from pre-school children to university students, would begin under the sign of code yellow.
In other words, as free and unfettered as it gets in times of coronavirus: social distancing, masks for some, bubbles made up of classmates. But otherwise, as open and normal as it’s possible to get.
But the authorities of the Erasmus university college in Brussels see things otherwise. When their students come back for the start of the new year, they will be under code orange.
“In my opinion, code yellow is not the right decision for Brussels, because our Brussels campuses are located in the centre of the capital, and the contamination level there is high,” explained director-general Ann Brusseel.
“We prefer to implement the measures that fall under code orange. In my view, the Brussels authorities are not being strict enough. I don’t want to risk reverting to code red and lockdown because that would be dramatic for my students.”
The college has adopted a two-prong approach: what can be done online, like lectures, will be online.
“That gives us the room, physically and in the timetable, to allow the necessary practical lessons, such as film workshops, lab work, musical and theatre, to take place on campus,” Brusseel said. “Because there too we have to make smaller bubbles.”
While the social distancing under code yellow allows for lecture halls to be half full, code orange sets a limit of 20% occupancy. And in fact, only 20% of the college’s 5,000 students may be on campus at any one time.
The decision taken last week allows for a review in the second week of September, to take account of the local situation at that moment. A change of code could be possible, depending on the number of infections in the area – although Brussels already passed the presumed threshold for switching from yellow to orange some time ago.
Erasmus prefers not to wait. “The planning for lectures, work groups and practical work is particularly complex,” Brusseel said. “You can’t just change everything in a week.”
The college will continue to look into the possibility of testing students in situ, as a means of putting everyone more at ease.
“I am not against that, because I have been looking for the way to test for a few weeks,” she said.
“We could divide the students into small groups. The final year students of film, stage, direction or technology are now finishing their end-of-year project and can safely stay in a small group for a week to ten days. I would have liked to be able to reassure them by having them tested, but that turns out not to be so simple,” she said.