Studying in the Netherlands in times of corona

Now that scholarships have been granted for Short courses and Master’s degree courses starting from September 2020, many students are wondering what COVID-19 means for their study in the Netherlands.
Posted by Nuffic

Students who have been granted a scholarship to study in the Netherlands face a lot of questions: should they stay home, to follow the online course from there? Or, is it feasible to come to the Netherlands, even when the course is given online? Will getting a visa be a problem? And what happens when another lock down takes place? These are some of the many questions that are raised by the scholarships holders. As Nuffic, we can’t give you all the answers, but we can give you more information on how current students are dealing with the situation, and how institutions are looking ahead.

The situation at present (30 June ‘20) in the Netherlands is optimistic. We never had a very strict lock down like the countries around us. We had an intelligent lock down. The latest status is that most bans are lifted except for social distancing of 1,5 metres, avoiding crowds and staying home when symptoms occur (read regulations on RIVM site). Unfortunately the situation with COVID-19 remains unpredictable, so changes to the plans made for the start of the new academic year are always possible. But, the Dutch are known for their resilience, and adapted their course offer rapidly when the pandemic no longer allowed face-to-face education. They went to great lengths to offer students the knowledge and skills they want to acquire. And, they will adapt again to new situations.

'Going back to our country in such unplanned manner due to the pandemic was a really big blow to us' - Daisy Adu

What was it like for students when the switch to online had to be made?

Animal Health Officer Daisy Adu from Ghana had a scholarship for a short course in Poultry Husbandry and Animal Feed Production at Aeres Training Centre International. “Going back to our countries in such unplanned manner due to the pandemic was a really big blow to us. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t complete the course in the Netherlands as expected. The practical aspect of the course was really important to me. Back home, Aeres keeps me updated about the corona situation in the Netherlands and how the training centre is working towards new ways. The online start has been successful so far. Assignments are given to us through an online platform and it has been pretty good, there have been some challenges for some of us in Africa, because of high cost of internet services in Ghana and poor network services. I hope that conditions will be favorable once again so I can travel to the Netherlands to complete my studies especially in the practical aspect which is very much important to me in my profession.”

'Adjusting to online classes was challenging at first, but I must say I love it now' - Dinah Faith Nabudadiri

“I had just joined and only had about one month of on campus classes before switching to online classes”, says Dinah Faith Nabudadiri from Uganda, who is currently studying at Wageningen University & Research, pursuing a Master's in Plant Sciences.

“Adjusting to online classes was challenging at first, but I must say I love it now. The lecturers have done some adjustments to make the course schedules suitable for the online version of study. There are still lots of ways to meet and interact with fellow students, so you won’t feel alone. Following my courses online has also exposed me to various virtual classroom platforms and software, like the remote proctor software for online exams. This has improved my digital skills and typing speed. Also, becoming acquainted with online studying has motivated me to take up other online summer courses from other universities. Online courses are fun, interactive, easy and attractive”.

She tips students to treat online courses the same as you would on-campus courses. This means keeping a regular schedule and sticking to it. Take breaks to do the things you enjoy doing for example play some music, go for a walk or cycle around, make it enjoyable (reward yourself after some accomplishments) and have fun!”

'We can easily follow the course online. We just adapted to devices and the context' - Ibrahima Gaye

Ibrahima Gaye from Senegal, studied at KIT in Amsterdam on a Master’s in Project Management. He is responsible for the monitoring and evaluation office of the AIDS department of the Ministry of Health. “We can easily follow the course online. We just adapted to devices and the context. Somehow, the international courses go beyond the academic aspects. Participants should be in contact to discover the social and cultural life. Yes, sitting in a class room together may be optimal, but the experience remains great, even online.”

'Online education has given me more flexibility and the platforms makes it more fun and interesting' - Daren Paul Katigbak

Daren Paul Katigbak from the Philippines studying at Institute of Social Studies (ISS) looks back: “In March 2020, when we went in lockdown I wasn’t sure whether I could still get the quality education I deserve. One of my motivations to study and learn is having a constant communication and interaction with my professors and classmates. And with online education, the social interaction part was clearly missing. The weeks passed by and eventually I was able to adapt to the new normal. The fears and concerns I had with online education totally changed. ISS did a tremendous job to make sure students were still able to continue with their MA courses by using online platforms."

Daren Paul follows a Master’s in Development Studies, Major in Human Rights, Gender, Conflict Studies. "Currently, I am taking 2 courses online and I can say that I am enjoying both. Online education has given me more flexibility and the platforms ISS uses makes it more fun and interesting.”

"As we’re all trying to adjust and adapt in this rapidly changing environment, my tip for coming students would be to have a realistic expectation. Give yourself and your instructor adequate time to adjust to the online setting and different study platforms. Secondly, if possible invest in a quality and good laptop. Do not panic when you get disconnected, it's practically normal but make sure to learn some troubleshooting skills. And lastly, put self-care on the top of your list. A healthy mind and body is important for a successful learning experience.”

What can we expect of the courses given by the institutions?

To give you more of an idea of what to expect we’ve asked some institutions to share their ideas. Most courses will start online, but institutions will constantly monitor whether the situation allows them to switch back to face-to-face education. Some institutions will use the so called HyFlex education model (hybrid flexible education model): each student can choose to follow lessons online or face-to-face.

Even though most courses start online, it may already be an option for you to come to the Netherlands, provided travel bans are lifted and visa can be issued in time. The institutions may vary in approach, but most of them will stimulate you to come when possible. It might be easier for you to dedicate your time to studying and you will have the experience of being part of our society, even though the situation is not yet normal. And, if face-to-face classes are allowed the switch can be made swiftly.

Roy Huijsmans, Associate Professor in Childhood and Youth Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague: “The ISS classrooms often make very stimulating learning environments. So I wasn’t too sure about online education. But to be honest, I must admit that in online education there are many more ways to support students’ individual learning processes than in the conventional classroom and I have been truly impressed by students’ performance in the online courses.”

At Wageningen University & Research, Board member Arthur Mol outlines the contours of the one-and-a-half-metres university. Who can come to campus? “If you don’t need to work on campus, you work at home. That will be the rule until September at least. After that we are considering the option of allocating work locations. We want to set priorities there: we want to give the finalists (PhD students, ed.) the chance to come to campus if they need facilities. But we also want to give priority to the first-years, on both the Bachelor’s and the Master’s programmes. First-years need to form a bond with the university and build up a network. You don’t do that at your computer, but by meeting other students on campus. A good relationship with teachers and other students increases motivation and success at university. And of course, the introduction – the AID – that we will be organizing in August will help with that too.”

Marianne van Dorp, Manager business Development at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, adds: “For international participants of our short courses we are doing our utmost to design and deliver quality online alternatives for our courses. Some of these courses already run. However, we have a large courses portfolio, and need some time to transfer our full courses portfolio into quality online and blended products. Our staff has recently been trained in designing and delivery of online and blended learning products and is currently exploring the possibilities of more products and services. We also take the opportunity of the current Covid-19 limitations for rethinking our courses portfolio and seeing which long-term solutions for online learning can be integrated in our curriculum.”

Although there are many challenges, the general feedback from lecturers and students at IHE Delft on distance education during these times is positive. Head of the Education Bureau, Erwin Ploeger comments: “It is a great opportunity for our academic staff to explore new techniques for teaching, especially in the context of our Institute, where we need to share knowledge throughout the world, urgently, if we are going to succeed in tackling global water problems. Ironically, I think, this crisis will accelerate these efforts considerably, as staff will feel more comfortable working online when things return to normal”. A well appreciated part in IHE Delft’s curricula are excursions and field trips, and gradually IHE staff are finding ways to re-organize these, albeit in an adapted way. Jack van de Vossenberg, Senior Lecturer in Microbiology at IHE Delft explains: “The corona restrictions make things a bit more difficult, but in the end it is doable. I took my class on a fieldtrip about eco technologies in a double-decker bus for 90 persons with 20 persons keeping their distance. The purpose was to look at methods for treatment of domestic wastewater via sand filters and wet-roofs. The first part was an outdoor excursion and then we went to a big hall for agricultural machines, allowing plenty of room to congregate for the theory part.”

Lisanne Gerstel, director of KIT’s Master’s programmes explains how they approach the new situation: “It’s amazing how fast students and teachers adapted to distance based education! We had to work really hard and be creative for the switch, but we were able to keep the interactive aspects of the course and used debate sessions, group work, student presentations, forums, journal clubs all effectively online. We plan to soon teach face-to-face in Amsterdam again but we experienced that either way we can deliver quality courses and cater for those that can and those that cannot be at KIT physically.”

At Aeres International Training Centre the main challenge is that the effective skill training as conducted in Barneveld is not possible at the moment. Instead, the students will have to find two relevant poultry- and pig farms, which allow them to practice, be involved in daily management and take data from. Senior trainer Helmich van Rees explains: “We prepare many small assignments for the students and they have to report in writing, by means of pictures and/or video. Each student gets an Aeres TCI trainer to coach and guide this process. Online classes are difficult, due to significant different time zones of students, but also poor internet connections. So instead, classes are recorded and placed online for students to download at their convenience. Students are able to practice and apply knowledge gained in their own working environment, not only at the end of the course, but already during the course. They will be triggered to identify real issues from the farms back home through assignments given, trainers will be happy to tackle these which will make the training-programme even more applicable. Last but not least, employers are given access to the online learning material to follow the learning path of the student and are invited to contribute to the programme with comments and suggestions. We may face more unexpected challenges, but we will also experience unexpected advantages. All in all we expect a challenging, but also interesting programme to conduct and already now we expect that this forced experience will lead to innovations in our approach for the years to come”.

We thank the people in this article for sharing their insights and wish all of you best of luck in coping and pursuing your endeavours!

Find more information on the corona webpage of Study in Holland

Nuffic has set up a survey on factors that are affecting your future study plans as scholarship holders in the current corona situation. Thank you for participating.

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