Universities in Belgium can begin welcoming limited groups of students back on campus for certain exams or activities, ministers of education said.
Flemish universities and colleges (hogescholen) will be able to hold on-site exams from Monday, the regional education minister, Ben Weyts, confirmed, adding that the measure applied in priority to practical examinations, for example in the arts.
Ahead of Belgium’s return to lockdown in late October, several universities announced they were activating code-red and switching back to distance-learning education.
Flemish institutions will also be allowed to organise in-person integration activities or talks aimed particularly at first-year students ahead of their first exams.
Francophone universities in Brussels and Wallonia will also be allowed to hold some in-person exam sessions for the January sessions, the minister of higher education for the Brussels-Wallonia Federation, Valérie Glatigny, confirmed on Saturday.
Weyts said that the decision to allow students to return to campus was taken after consultation with virologists, education officials and student bodies.
In Francophone institutes, a maximum of 200 students will be allowed to sit for an exam in a single room with a social distance of 1.5 metres between them. Face masks will also be mandatory throughout the duration of the test.
The staff there will have to implement a circulation circuit for students to limit contacts while moving around the room, which must also be “frequently and sufficiently ventilated,” according to a statement by Glatigny.
Additional exceptions for exams for which a distance-learning alternative is “impossible” will be allowed as well, as long as they take place with one student at a time, with a limited number of examiners and without a public.
The ministers’ statements came after the federal government announced the latest update in coronavirus rules for the end-of-year period, which include the reopening of non-essential shops and some exceptions on social contact restrictions for the holidays.
Overall, distance learning is still the norm in both Flemish and Francophone universities, with the former stressing that colleges may only be at 10% of their normal capacities and the latter saying that, at any given time, institutions may only have 25% of their total student bodies present at the same time on campus.