Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (Education) is looking for all possible ways to give students in MBO and higher education more space for physical education, but this does not interfere with the applicable corona measures.

Despite the call from the House for change, the face masks policy for students remains unchanged.

"Those empty spaces in the lecture halls give me a stomach ache," said Van Engelshoven on Wednesday in a parliamentary debate about education and corona.

"I am using every straw to give students more room for education. But at the moment I don't see any possibilities to say to higher education and MBO: we can let go of the 1.5 meters in some places."

When Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave the "urgent advice" on behalf of the cabinet last week to wear a mouth mask in public interior spaces, the question arose as to whether this should also apply to higher education.

After consultation with the trade unions, umbrella organizations and students, Van Engelshoven decided not to give advice.

This is left to the schools themselves, for example in consultation with the safety regions.

According to the government, the one-and-a-half meter rule can be complied with at MBOs, colleges and universities, because many lessons are taught online.

As a result, only a third of the number of students and teaching staff is present.

This is not the case in secondary education, where all pupils are present and are therefore unable to maintain sufficient distance.

There it is "urgent advice" to wear a mouth mask in places where sufficient distance cannot be kept, such as in hallways and auditoriums, but not in the classrooms.

Chamber asks for adjustment and clarity

Some parties find the different advice confusing and prefer to see the same rules for all educational institutions.

D66 suggested via Twitter to make buildings "corona proof" and to have students wear mouth masks.

"That way they can go to school."

The party wants to see whether more physical education is possible in this way.

"Students can go to school simply because they have a mouth mask. Can that mouth mask also contribute to students attending lectures and work groups more?", D66 MP Jan Paternotte wondered in the debate.

SP member Frank Futselaar sees that the noncommittal nature of the policy has created "a completely contradictory picture" because institutions use their own guidelines.

"In this way you undermine the support for corona measures."

VVD MP Bart Smals especially wants clarity.

"Either mouth masks or not. I don't really care. As long as it fits within the measures."

Whatever it takes to make more possible

Van Engelshoven, therefore, did not take a decision on this and referred to the press conference that Rutte and Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) will give next week about possible new corona measures.

"I am a bit hesitant that we decide something here on a Wednesday afternoon during a debate," said the education minister.

"But I have understood the signals well."

The Outbreak Management Team also comes this week with special advice on the use of mouth masks.

That advice is broader than just for education.

According to Van Engelshoven, everyone in the field of education is focused on ensuring that as much education as possible continues.

"Everyone in MBO and higher education wants to have as many contacts as possible. I would almost like to say:

whatever it takes

. But within safe guidelines."