Forcing student to drop out? A waste of taxpayer’s money!

Can we really justify forcing first-year students to drop out of their programmes for not earning enough credits during the coronavirus pandemic? And more to the point: how much is that likely to cost us? This month, it became clear that doubts are starting to grow among policymakers about what is known as the ‘binding recommendation on the continuation of studies’ - a rule which essentially forces underperforming students to abandon their current study programme.

photo Piotr Zajda / Shutterstock

At TU/e, the minimum number of ECTS credit points students need to obtain in order to receive a positive binding study recommendation was set at 45 in 2015. When asked whether TU/e will adjust that threshold due to the corona crisis, policy officer Lilian Halsema replies: “Umbrella organization VSNU, and therefore TU/e as well, will await the results of the first quartile of this academic year’s first semester before we decide on what to do with the BSA. The minister seems to be moving into the direction of leniency, but the universities want to wait a bit longer with their decision.”

But in that case the BSA as such. In a recent parliamentary debate, the Christian Democrats (CDA) challenged the binding recommendation. The party filed a motion to investigate whether an alternative system could be more effective.

MPs are due to vote on the motion today, but meanwhile left-wing opposition party GroenLinks is already going one step further, proposing that binding recommendations should simply no longer be binding. The House will vote on this motion as well.

In it to bin it

This is music to the ears of the Dutch National Student’s Association (ISO). They argue that it’s time to bin the binding recommendation altogether, and have summarised their arguments in a pointed pamphlet: forced drop-outs cost money and cause stress, while some first-year curriculums are loaded with a couple of extra-difficult courses as a surreptitious way to filter out weaker students after they’ve already been admitted.

Now, students have found an ally in Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven. “One thing I disliked about the binding recommendation was that it led to a situation in which universities were basically pumping students round the system,” Van Engelshoven told MPs. “That has a detrimental effect on students’ motivation, and it’s not a very efficient use of educational resources.”

Two years ago, the Minister proposed lowering the bar for binding recommendations to a maximum of 40 out of 60 credits. At the time, her proposal was voted down by the House, but now the balance of opinion appears to have shifted.


It’s unclear exactly how much the binding recommendation is costing the state. But the real question is whether it’s conducive to academic success (good for the treasury), or if it actually leads to higher drop-out rates and study delays (bad for the treasury).

The ISO refers to a study conducted by VU Amsterdam among 1,707 students at its School of Business and Economics, which showed that 43 percent of the first-year students who were forced to drop out simply enrolled in the same programme at another institution.

But some universities see things very differently. Erasmus University Rotterdam, for example, remains convinced that the binding recommendation forces students to take their studies seriously.

Share this article