University campuses to re-open for high-priority classes


Universities and colleges in Flanders are offering extra support for first-year students plus opening up essential practical labs and workshops from next week

Relaxed restrictions

A limited reopening of university and college campuses in Flanders has been approved by education minister Ben Weyts. From 30 November, first-year students will once again be able to meet on campus to prepare for exams, and essential practical classes can restart.

At the end of October, universities in Flanders were obliged to move all teaching online, apart from some programmes preparing students for the healthcare professions. Now, coronavirus levels have improved sufficiently that this restriction can be relaxed.

Priority is being given to first-year students because they are relatively new to higher education and need additional support. From next Monday, it will be possible to bring them together on campus, for example to attend “booster sessions” to help prepare them for their first exams.

By offering a limited number of educational activities on campus, we want to offer our students some opportunities to return to campus safely

- KU Leuven rector Luc Sels

“In this strange situation, first-years may be particularly insecure and anxious about the revision and exam period that is coming up,” Weyts explained. “The corona crisis is not easy for anyone, but some students really lack support.”

Universities will also be allowed to open quiet study spaces on campus for any students who need them. Meanwhile the exams will take place under the same conditions that applied in June. This means they can be held on campus, as long as hygiene and safety rules are respected.

The universities can also reopen for other vulnerable groups of students at their discretion. At KU Leuven, for example, those on courses that experience lower pass rates even under normal conditions can be invited back to campus for wrap-up or booster sessions.

Some practical lessons that cannot be learned online will start again across Flanders

“By offering a limited number of educational activities on campus, we want – tentatively – to offer our students some opportunities to return to campus safely,” said Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven. “This is necessary, because otherwise we risk a real learning deficit.”

While distance learning remains the norm for most universities and colleges until the end of the year, they will also be able to reinstate some practical classes that they consider essential. “Safety remains paramount,” said Weyts, “but we must also be able to provide education, and for some degree programmes that is simply impossible without practical classes.”

This is particularly important for the colleges, which offer applied sciences and arts, with programmes often putting an emphasis on practical and on-hands experience. “By making practical training a priority it will be possible for our students to achieve their learning goals, and not face losing a semester,” said Joris Hindryckx, chair of the Flemish College Council.

Photos, from top: ©Eric Lalmand/BELGA, ©James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA