Growing within the Graduate School

An obligatory stay abroad. Only attend subjects good for 5 or 2.5 credits. Anyone who starts their Master’s degree program in 2015 or later may face this likely situation. Lots of work is being done in the wings to fill in the details of the Graduate School, which is to amalgamate everything coming after the Bachelor’s degree at TU/e. More space for options, ‘students at the center’, gaining international experience and a better transfer to PDEng programs, a PhD path or a job are the main ingredients.

“We are all committed to delivering the engineers of the future. Due to the introduction of the Bachelor College the influx into the Master’s programs has become more diversified and we need to adjust our educational system to that. Students have their own profiles and we want to facilitate a better fit with the Master phase.” So says prof. dr. ir. Jan Fransoo, who has since the end of 2013 been the dean of the Graduate School and is also professor of Operations, Planning and Control. He is spending two days a week working on the organization of the new teaching approach and appears on stage at a moment when a lot of preliminary work has been completed and the focus has been determined.

“Master first step in career instead of last step studies”

Within the Graduate School all the education comes after the Bachelor phase, which is a rather unusual setup within Europe. Fransoo: “We are involving the Master phase, because we want to position it differently: closer to the PhD and PDEng programs than in the Bachelor. We need to regard the Master as a first step in a career rather than the last one in students’ studies.”

The chief points from the educational vision for the Graduate School are the pursuit of excellence, internationalization, a coaching role of lecturers and the delivery of engineers with broader training. In 2013 a taskforce consisting of students and staff members made a rough copy of the curriculum of the Graduate School. An earlier consultation among deans produced a list of priorities that Fransoo could get to work with.

The first and at once the most urgent priority is the review of the Master’s study programs. Fransoo: “In September 2015 the first Bachelor students will begin on their Master’s programs. This implies that the outline of the Master’s programs must be ready by this summer, so that there is enough time left to organize the timetable and establish the curriculum.”

Master students and lecturers will be confronted with a number of changes. The main ones are listed below, and Jan Fransoo provides an explanation:

More space for options. “We want to train graduates for the industry who have a broader profile. The starting point of the Graduate School is that students should make their own choices – in which they are supervised. Students occupy center stage. All other choices for the Graduate School are derived from this. The number of set subjects will account for a maximum of 30 credits. A maximum, which means that this may also be 0 – as is the case for certain programs at present. The intention is to reserve at least 15 credits for free options, which may be fleshed out by an internship or free elective courses. Non-TU/e students, such as students from abroad whose previous education is not fully in line with the requirements, can also use this space in order to attain the desired level.”

All subjects consist of 5 or 2.5 credits and are given within one quartile. “We want to link up better with the Bachelor College, where this procedure is already being used. We wish to create clarity for new students and make it easier to attend subjects at other departments. For example, there are students who need to follow some more Bachelor subjects. In that case it would be practical if they have the same substance as the Master subjects. To avoid fragmentation most subjects will account for five credits. On the other hand, we want to allow a limited number of subjects of 2.5 credits to accommodate part-time lecturers and highly specialized disciplines.” Subjects of three ECs will be allowed until September 2017.

All Master students must gather experience abroad. “We consider it crucial that TU/e delivers students with international experience. This requirement can be fleshed out by the courses themselves. They are free to decide whether it involves an internship abroad or attending subjects in a foreign country. In the beginning in particular we shall handle this with clemency, especially if a student has a good reason for not going – for instance if there is an issue in the private atmosphere. Not wanting it is not a valid reason for not going.” International students do not need to go abroad anymore, though, because they are already gathering their international experience in the Netherlands.

Lecturer as mentor. “The idea is to link every Master student to a mentor at the end of a quartile or semester. That person is often the same one as the graduation supervisor. Lecturers will be given a broader role and will coach students in the direction of their careers. While some of the lecturers are already doing so, others are not and are consciously staying away from that. We want to facilitate this for lecturers as best we can. Their coaching role will differ from the coaching role in the Bachelor College; there will be a much stronger intrinsic link and primary responsibility will lie with the student. There is no intention, for that matter, for lecturers also to get involved with professional skills.”

Attention to the development of skills. “We have defined a set of some thirty skills, and will start with around seven of these. Think of skills like writing, presenting, consultation and influencing. Via an assessment we want to see how far students have progressed and what else they need. We are elaborating a number of these things with the Education and Student Service Center. We have to cope with very limited budgets so we cannot afford to employ twenty trainers. Therefore we are considering the possibility of having PDEng diploma holders train students in cooperation so that they can in turn gather experience with leadership. We are also looking into online training options.”

Better fit with PhD and PDEng study program. “It must become easier to transfer from the Master to a PhD or PDEng path. Condensed PhD paths have featured in the deliberations and I cannot say that everybody is of the same opinion on that issue. We need to look into that further. What we do agree on is that quality is the standard. It is quite possible that we would have a setup in which excellence paths include doctorate students already following some subjects for their PhD, so that they could complete that path a little sooner.”

Fransoo also has the task to ensure that we get more international students. “Now we have some 250 international Master students coming in every year. That number needs to go up to 1,000 in 2020. So far we have recruited especially via our network. As a university we are not so old as Delft, for example, which would allow us to achieve the increase in international students and staff members via alumni. We will continue to utilize our network to the full – think of the provision of grants, visits to institutes and an occasional presence at education fairs. We are going to work more on online marketing in particular to attract more students from abroad.” The Communications Expertise Center is working on a campaign for the international recruitment.       

Fransoo is also going to start up the ‘community formation’. “This means that everybody will feel more connected with the university. Not only students, but also Design Engineers, PhD candidates and alumni. There may be joint activities, for instance. It’s a process that will take years.” The last priority is with what Fransoo calls the governance. “Who is going to deal with what and what powers does everybody have”, the dean explains. “We must anchor things in our governance.”

For many programs the introduction of the Graduate School implies that the structure and substance of the Master’s program will change. Fransoo: “Some study programs decide to start with an empty sheet while others carry through marginal adjustments.”

“There’s still a lot of work to be done”

Prof. dr. ir. Bart Smolders is Study Program Manager for Electrical Engineering and Manager of the Graduate Program of the same name. “We see that the influx is becoming more and more diversified and that we need more flexibility in the Master and more individual coaching of students. Together with the lecturers we shall have to look into the contents of subjects again. Indeed, we only have subjects accounting for three credits and not five. Our deadline for the new curriculum is February 2015 and I think that is feasible. All in all, though, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

“Most of our Master students already go in for international internships. I think it will be more difficult, however, to oblige our students with higher professional education backgrounds to go abroad as well. Their time would be better spent by acquiring research skills. Also, we already have quite some international students, but of course we would welcome even more of them. We have noticed that they can use help especially when it comes to professional skills. Leadership they often find difficult, just like cooperation. We are already offering them a path and will elaborate that further”, says Smolders.
“Our specialization path is already organized rather tightly. We work with a specialization contract, in which agreements are laid down between students and supervisors. Our aim for the future is to introduce excellence paths in the Master also for students who will next focus on a PhD or PDEng.”

Prof. dr. Mark de Berg is Study Program Manager of the Graduate Program Computer Science. In this program several other items will play a role. “Two years ago we introduced quartiles and subjects of five credits. It works better, is more manageable for the planning and for students it is surveyable to focus on three subjects in each quartile. For our multidisciplinary Master’s program there is the issue of students coming in with different backgrounds. You would like to give them the same basis, which may be awkward with a small number of set subjects. Another big challenge is the obligation to gather experience abroad. We see very little of that at present. In that respect we can learn things from other programs. At Automotive Systems, for instance, they have a very nice system whereby the program facilitates while a lot of responsibility is placed with the student at the same time. In addition, we have had an honors program in the Master for some six years now and are working on a system in which the student is coached better in his decision-making process. One component of that is that we have defined flows that help students in composing a coherent package. We are still studying how we should tackle the development of the professional skills.”

Last Monday the University Council expressed its concerns about the introduction of the Graduate School. There were questions in particular about the obligation to study abroad and about the introduction of five credits per subject. For one, Groep-één wants to know whether gathering experience abroad will add value for each study program. A member of the personnel party is afraid that students will expect the departments to arrange everything, in view of the obligatory nature. The Eindhoven Student Council wonders how the quality of the study programs will be assured and all parties also worry about the extra workload. Rector prof. dr. ir. Hans van Duijn reacts by saying that everything is still under construction and promises that the subject will be discussed in greater depth at a later stage.

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