Queen Máxima visits Utrecht University

Her Majesty Queen Máxima visited Utrecht University on Tuesday, 8 December. The work visit dealt with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education and the welfare of students and lecturers. “We in the Executive Board are proud of the manner in which students and staff have dealt with the current situation”, according to Board President Anton Pijpers. “We’ve seen them make amazing efforts, but we’ve also seen how some people are truly struggling. It is therefore wonderful to be able to show Her Majesty how we work together to fight the coronavirus and its effects here in Utrecht.”

 Koningin Máxima bij het practicum van Lena Will, Foto: Brunopress/Patrick van Emst
Queen Máxima at the Biology lab seminar from Lena Will, Picture: Brunopress/Patrick van Emst

During her visit, the Queen was especially interested into the students’ well-being; an issue that is also high on the agenda at Utrecht University. “Many people are in a difficult situation due to the coronavirus”, according to Anton Pijpers, “and that certainly applies to students as well. Social life is partly at a standstill and students are less able to be present on campus. Students say that they feel more stress at the moment, and are uncertain about the future. We therefore work hard to provide students with the best possible support and, in addition to their study progress, we are also committed to good mental health."

At the UU, for example, the guidance provided by student advisors has been intensified, financial arrangements have been made with students and initiatives have been launched to provide students with tips for studying at home. The university is also participating in the international Caring Universities project, where students can receive coaching and guidance via e-health modules. “Fortunately, the government has given us some leeway to offer limited face-to-face education on campus”, Pijpers says. “And we’re taking full advantage of that.” To get an impression of how education is progressing, Queen Máxima attended a Biology lab seminar by Assistant Professor Lena Will. In her practicals Will uses the physical space on the campus and at the same time makes use of digital resources. Her lectures are broadcast to other lab rooms via livestream, for example, and she organises lab seminars where pairs of students can work together while working remotely.

Next Queen Máxima visited the Utrecht Biologists Association (UBV). In the club office, board members Machiel van Halteren and Diede Bastmeijer told about the role that student associations play in building bonds between students, especially first-year students. Anton Pijpers: “Utrecht’s student organisations are doing truly amazing work, and are vital to help students find their place at our university.”

Queen Máxima talking to students and lectures, picture: Brunopress/Patrick van Emst

The visit concluded with two round-table discussions. During the first, Queen Máxima spoke with a first-year student, a PhD candidate and a student psychologist to hear about the psycho-social consequences that the coronavirus pandemic has had on students. Finally, Her Majesty spoke about the lessons learned for higher education as a result of the pandemic. She talked with lecturers and students about education innovations and the experiences with blended learning. Blended learning is based on the integration of contact education and online learning, in which the two components reinforce each other. Some experts from other universities also joined in the discussion via video chat.

Queen Máxima’s visit to Utrecht University is part of a series of work visits conducted by Her Majesty and King Willem-Alexander to talk with those who have been affected by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.