‘The majority of students fell head over heels at the prospect of going back to UvA’s campus,’ writes international student Andrzej Mattioli. He thinks physical education at the university is not good news for international students. ‘It is a short-term fix to a long-term problem.’
Recently, the University of Amsterdam celebrated yet another first position in the country and fifty-fifth in the world rankings. Yet, UvA’s latest decision to resume on-campus education in September regardless of circumstances is not something we have come to expect from an institution that prides itself on being internationally-oriented. It seems like with this decision, the university went for the quick-fix solution to a complicated situation: win popular support.
The majority of students fell head over heels at the prospect of going back to (here I quote directly from UvA’s most recent newsletter) ‘a bustling campus’ after over a year of sitting behind a screen, staring at each other’s tired faces, switching from Zoom to Teams, and vice versa. Those already in Amsterdam probably celebrated this decision. Good for them. But what about international students? What about those that are currently living outside of Amsterdam and the Netherlands? When asked, UvA’s staff – including study advisors, professors and faculty administrators to whom I spoke to – all responded with the same refrain: ‘Our hands are tied. However, if you want to, you can postpone your studies for as long as you like,’ and ‘We would like to help you, but we cannot.’ Cannot, or will not?
Difficulties to get to Amsterdam
The pandemic affected all of us in different ways. Entire livelihoods have been destabilized by COVID-19 and its effects have manifested across all countries and regions alike: financial difficulties, health concerns, travel restrictions – you name it. Personally, I have been lucky. Since the pandemic started, I have been staying with my family in Luxembourg. In the meantime, I completed my Bachelor’s degree and started my Master’s in Political Communication. During this time, I have met students who have not been as lucky. Most of them support themselves and look at the prospect of having to move to Amsterdam in the midst of a global pandemic as something completely unfeasible. UvA’s decision is a major stab in the back for some of us. Indeed, how can we pretend that from September onwards everything is going to be just fine? How can we say for sure that the pandemic will not play a part in our education in the fall? If there is one thing we have learned over the past year is that COVID is unpredictable and the UvA blatantly dismissing this aspect shows major indifference on the part of an institution that should work for our best interest.
Up until late April, study advisors were telling us that there is nothing to worry about and that online education will still be a possibility in September. Fast forward a month later and UvA outlaws the practice of following courses online because ‘it does not fit accreditation guidelines’. The thing is… we are not asking to change the entire educational system! What we are asking of UvA is flexibility and understanding in light of varying personal circumstances that make it difficult for some of us to pack things up and grab the first plane ticket to Amsterdam.
Online education is far from ideal. We realize that. Bad internet connection, microphone not working, Zoom crashing – we have all experienced it. But for some of us, this – for the time being – is the safest and most reasonable way to continue our studies. Because let us face it: the UvA is not going to guarantee a roof over our head in one of the toughest housing markets in Europe. Similarly, UvA cannot guarantee that on-campus education will go as smoothly as planned. It is an impossible promise to keep. Moving to Amsterdam entails students uprooting their lives, signing long-term contracts and paying astronomical accommodation fees. In a time when the pandemic is still present and some students – like myself – have but a few weeks of lectures left, can UvA guarantee all this effort on our part will not be in vain?
For the past four years I have been a student of this university. For four years I held this institution and the people working in it in the highest regard. However, this decision is too disappointing to let it slip past. We cannot tell ourselves this decision was made with consideration for everyone. It was not. This was a short-term fix to a long-term problem that is not going away anytime soon. Considering the circumstances, the possibility of students opting for online education instead of attending in-person classes should not be seen as deviant behavior. That is why I am glad I am not the only one in this fight. Friends and classmates have expressed similar concerns and recent efforts on the part of other students include petitions asking UvA to provide an online alternative. It is now up to the university to show that they truly care about us. Because when a university stops listening to its students, that is when we should start worrying.
Andrzej Mattioli is a Master’s student of Communication Science.