Return to campus for higher education students, but not for everyone in Brussels

Return to campus for higher education students, but not for everyone in Brussels
Credit: Belga

Colleges and universities will be able to switch entirely to full-time contact education from September in Flanders and Wallonia, but for Flemish-speaking campuses in Brussels, this decision has been postponed.

Flemish minister for education Ben Weyts and college, university, and student representatives have decided that, in Flanders, practical and lab exercises can also recommence.

"Thanks to the successful vaccination campaign, colleges and universities in Flanders will again be able to offer full-time contact education to all students at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year," Weyts said.

Although classes will be in person from the start of the academic year, it will still be possible to follow lessons or watch recordings of lecture. This will benefit students that, for example, need to be particularly careful for medical reasons or those who still feel uncomfortable returning to campus.

Meanwhile, internships can once again go ahead although students must, of course, follow the coronavirus measures in place at the location of the internship.  Welcome days and exams will also be given the green light under normal circumstances, according to a press release.

When returning to full-time in-person teaching, maximum ventilation remains one of the most important precautionary measures, the press release from Weyts' cabinet stated.

"The prevention advisor assesses the safety of the premises in advance and can impose measures such as monitoring the air quality with a CO2 meter or limiting the capacity utilisation," it read.

French-speaking vs Flemish-speaking

Students at French-speaking universities and colleges in Wallonia and Brussels will once again be able to attend campus courses in person from the start of the academic year, although masks must still be worn inside, the cabinet of higher education minister Valérie Glatigny said on Friday.

A meeting with health experts and all higher education stakeholders will take place on Wednesday 25 August to work out the practical details.

Although the obligation to wear face masks on campus has already been confirmed for French-speaking education, whether they will be needed in the switch to full-time contact education in Flanders is still to be decided.

What about Brussels?

The announcement made by the Flemish-speaking community's education board to see how the epidemiological situation in Brussels evolves before deciding whether a return to campus is possible leaves the region's Dutch-speaking students in the dark.

"We do not want to immediately close every avenue for students in Brussels, while there is still some time," Weyts said.

According to Vice-Rector for Education of the Flemish-speaking Free University of Brussels (VUB) Jan Danckaert, this postponement doesn't mean that a full-time return to in-person learning is not possible.

"I dare to assume that we will also be able to open with code green in Brussels, albeit perhaps with a mouth mask obligation and other additional measures," he told Bruzz.

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In consultation with Brussels' Joint Community Commission (Cocom), the VUB is already taking various initiatives to promote vaccination coverage, and it is asking for the Brussels Vacci buses to drive past the campuses.

"The VUB encourages staff, students, and visitors to get vaccinated. It is important to note that many students and staff come from Flanders and are already sufficiently vaccinated," a press release stated.

The university has also promised all rooms will be sufficiently ventilated and plans extra measures to guarantee everyone's safety.

However, Danckaert said compulsory vaccination and the use of Covid Safe Tickets in classes and auditoriums "borders on a restriction of the right to education, and we want to stay away from that discussion."

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