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Discussion about ceiling on student numbers still in full swing

At Architecture, Building and Planning as well as at Mechanical Engineering, administrators are convinced of the necessity of introducing a ceiling on student numbers this coming academic year. But for Innovation Sciences and Mathematics the situation is more complicated and further research and consultation is required to establish the best way forward. As yet, Dean Johan Lukkien expects no cap to be imposed on Mathematics for the coming academic year. On October 1 the Executive Board must take a final decision.

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The ceiling on student numbers announced for Architecture, Building and Planning may seem to come out of the blue. Thanks to the crisis in the construction sector, the program has had a couple of lean years recently in terms of intake; in 2016 only 100 to 110 first-years came to Eindhoven. Every reason therefore to be pleased with the growth.

But according to Program Director Jan van der Meulen, with the market emerging from the crisis, his program is seeing its intake start to accelerate. “At some point, there was talk of a scenario in which this year we had to take account of 500 first-years. I shudder to think of it. Luckily that has turned out not to be the case, but we have reached about 320. We had devised an emergency scenario, in which we could have coped with 400 first-years. But that would have required a lot of effort and invention.“

Having to give up the Matrix building, which is directly connected by pedestrian bridge to the departmental building Vertigo, was a particular cause of capacity problems some years ago. Van der Meulen: “Matrix had become something of our own playground and it gave us huge flexibility. We lost that and it had an immediate and considerable impact on our use of Vertigo.”

The more than 320 first-years who are starting this academic year, says the program director, are a record number and the reason for needing a cap. How many first-years can join the program next year will be established shortly, says Van der Meulen. But levels like this are causing an imbalance in the student population at his department, he says. “Owing to the low intake in the crisis years, there will soon be fewer students moving on to the master's. Whereas that's exactly where we could do with a few more.”

English-taught bachelor's

At Mechanical Engineering the setting of a ceiling on student numbers has been prompted in part by the fact that next year the department will switch to an English-taught bachelor's, says Dean Philip de Goey. A limit on the intake is intended to prevent the program being inundated by foreign students.

De Goey: “In recent years we have already grown from about 200 first-years to the current figure of just under 300. The limit will be set at 330, a number we can accommodate, but any more than that and it becomes really difficult. I just hope that by imposing the ceiling, we don't have to cope with a considerable dip next year - although for a single year that is manageable.”

An intake limit should also ensure that sufficient supervision continues to be available to all students. “This supervision is needed not only in the period the bachelor's spend working on their final project and during the master's phase, where the supervision is one to one,” states De Goey. “After all, in the bachelor's phase we also have many OGO projects, and they are already putting our academic staff under significant pressure.”

Complicating factors

At Mathematics there is the problem that a considerable number of students chooses to study for two majors in parallel, one of which is often Mathematics, for example in combination with Applied Physics. “A ceiling on student numbers for Mathematics complicates this combination,” says Rector Magnificus Frank Baaijens, “and so further study is required to establish how we can best deal with this.”

Dean Johan Lukkien endorses the explanation given by Baaijens and says that last week some of his colleagues in the department were perturbed because Board President Jan Mengelers said at the Opening of the Academic Year that a ceiling on student numbers might also be introduced for Mathematics. An internal email has since been distributed to add shades of meaning to this message.

Lukkien: “The presence of a ceiling on student numbers on one of the courses in question, gives rise to limitations when a student wants to enroll for a double bachelor's and things are even more complicated when that's the case for both programs. Because we are dealing here with the better students, we are keen to maintain this possibility - without enrollment complications. Furthermore, it is not unthinkable that a ceiling on student numbers could cause a sharp drop in this intake.”

According to Lukkien, in recent years enrollments for Mathematics have stood at around 100, “with a spike of 117 first-years in 2016 for reasons we don't fully understand. This year it looks like we'll come out at about 100, which is our aim.” Lukkien says that his department currently does not have many options for steering the intake except for the size of the cap.

“For the reasons mentioned above, we think that the cap must be set considerably higher than 100 to generate a stable intake of around that number, thus enabling us to deal with the effects of any decline we might see. In addition, we want to see in the coming year whether the double freshman years can be better protected with a ceiling on student numbers. Like the Executive Board, we are convinced of the need to protect our quality and our people from explosive growth. But at this stage, we are still a some considerable way from imposing what we see as the cap.”

CROHO position

At Innovation Sciences there's a different type of problem, says Baaijens. “Unfortunately, we can't as yet set any ceiling on student numbers for different majors within a single bachelor's program, because the bachelor's has an exclusive CROHO (central register of HE programs) position. Within the program Innovation Sciences there are two majors: Psychology & Technology and Sustainable Innovation, and we can't make any distinction between them in the decentralized selection process.”

Particularly the major Psychology & Technology, which this year was started by some 100 first-years, is at its limit in terms of intake, explains Program Director Eric van der Geer-Rutten-Rijswijk. "For the major Sustainable Innovation the intake is about 60 first-years and we certainly don't want the level set any lower than that. Both majors should actually get their own CROHO position, but it takes at least a year to get to that stage. So the question that arises now is whether to introduce a ceiling on student numbers, which runs the risk of discouraging enrollment which in turn could be at the expense of Sustainable Innovation, or whether to wait a year and in the meantime see Psychology & Technology go way over the acceptable limit."

This issue will be the topic of intense consultation with the Executive Board in the coming weeks, says Van der Geer-Rutten-Rijswijk, "because by October 1 it must be clear whether you are going to announce that your program has a ceiling on student numbers for the academic year 2019-2020."

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