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Reopening the doors

Date:19 May 2020
Author:Jouke de Vries

Closing the doors of a university is much easier than reopening them! The problems surrounding reopening them are mostly related to public transport, as the one-and-a-half-metre rule has now also come into force on trains and buses. This is a major problem, especially for a peripheral university such as the UG, where many staff members and students from all around the country use public transport to travel to campus.

Preparations to reopen our buildings are in full swing. My expectation is that the Cabinet will announce a further relaxation of the rules on 20 May and that as from 15 June, universities and universities of applied sciences will also be given more leniency. That is, if the number of coronavirus infections remains low.

At the start of the pandemic, staff members and students were absolutely convinced that we had to take action. After all, we were being confronted with a virus that was unfamiliar and able to spread rapidly. Director of the RIVM Jaap van Dissel offered advice and after a hesitant start, the government came to their decisions as well. Likewise, the University Council was accommodating from the start and convened with the Board of the University via Google Hangouts. At the start of the pandemic, the country was in a state of emergency – a time when directive management and clear-cut decisions are appreciated. Now, however, we are talking about reopening the doors of the University, which is a trickier subject. This is the post-crisis crisis. After nearly 10 weeks of being quarantined, both staff members and students are sick of the situation. When will our buildings reopen, they ask?

We need to keep in mind, however, that unlike how the closure of our buildings took place, we cannot reopen them all at the same time. The Cabinet has issued regulations that differ for each sector. These sectoral regulations are coming into force at different times and cannot be introduced all at once. The UG needs to confer with Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Hundreds of students and staff members commute to the Zernike Campus or the Healthy Ageing Campus on a daily basis.

The UG is trying to very carefully restart the physical activities held in buildings and by service units, even if we are not yet entirely sure when this will happen. To this end, many things need to be taken into account. Reopening a small department means that various people from other departments will also need to be present in the buildings, such as the cleaners, porters, in-house emergency services and caterers, to name a few.

It is expected that NS and regional public transport companies will only allow students to travel at certain times. I expect that students who live in Groningen will cycle and walk as much as possible, just as they have always done.

One thing is for certain: this is an extremely tricky transition process.