The tutoring business is booming, even in higher education

One in five students is paying for “supplementary teaching”, the Dutch Inspectorate of Education announced today. This tutoring includes such things as guidance in thesis writing or help to pass a course. The costs average around two hundred euros. Jan van der Veen, professor at the Eindhoven School of Education, didn’t fall of his chair when he heard of these findings. “The fact that 71 percent of students use tutoring to pass a course seems quite logical to me, for example.”

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Students want to get through their programs quickly and efficiently, the Inspectorate of Education said today in The State of Education. And they are willing to spend money on that.

Such a system of shadow education could disrupt equal opportunity. Students from poorer families use tutoring services less often than students from richer families, the inspectors revealed. “Not all parents and students are able to pay for extra tutoring.”

There is more tutoring at academic universities than at universities of applied sciences. Among master’s students, 21 percent has purchased supplementary teaching at some time, as opposed to 17 percent of upper-year students in higher professional education.

Professor Jan van der Veen, who started at the Eindhoven School of Education in February, says that the issue isn’t exactly the subject of much study within ESoE. “We do however, in collaboration with the other universities within the 4TU federation, look at e-learning and at how we can use it to offer extra training in the field of calculus. A significant number of students, particularly pre-Master’s students from universities of applied sciences, often have difficulty with that part. The fact that we approach it together with the other 4TU universities, and therefore on a larger scale, allows us to invest in the development of e-learning.”

Teacher education, psychology

Students in larger programs – such as nursing, teaching, psychology and law – are more likely to use such services. Moreover, old habits die hard: those who are tutored at a young age more often turn to extra tutoring in higher education. And there are more of such differences. Those in shadow education are more often women than men. In addition, those with a non-western migration background make proportionally greater use of tutors than the rest of the population. High-achievers, too, are willing to put their money on the line for extra guidance: they want the highest marks possible. Other students typically seek tutoring when they suffer from a lack of motivation or concentration.

The fact that wanting to pass a course is the most important reason why students seek tutoring, is logical to Van der Veen. “That seems like a pretty obvious reason.”

Final project

So what kind of guidance do they get? Of those students who hire tutors, 71 percent want to pass a course, while 22 percent use such support for writing a final project, sometimes in addition to course tutoring. Another 18 percent needs help for stress or fear of failure.

Shadow education is becoming more common. All kinds of thesis coaches have registered with the Chamber of Commerce. In 2015 there were 63, but by 2019 that figure had doubled to 128.

This tutoring is different from getting help from friends or family, which 38 percent of academic Master’s students and upper-year university of applied sciences students have occasionally made use of. Around 12 percent also sometimes get help for free, or almost for free, from a student association.

Van der Veen says that the best tutoring a student can have is “that of fellow students – or your peers – who in turn learn a great deal from that themselves. I can well imagine that peer-supervision has largely stopped in these times of corona, since students see each other far less frequently. I believe that study associations can play an important role here.”

No idea

Academic universities and universities of applied sciences often have no idea that their students are hiring extra teaching services: 72 percent of these students has never said anything about it to their lecturer – sometimes due to fear of being criticised.

This has to change, the Inspectorate asserts. If lecturers enter into a conversation with their students about shadow education, they will know how students are experiencing the teaching offered by the program and what their needs are “better than relying on course evaluations.”

The State of Education was submitted this morning to outgoing Ministers Van Engelshoven and Slob. At the presentation, Director General of the Inspectorate of Education Alida Oppers warned of a decline in basic skills and a loss of equal opportunity for all.

On their own two feet

She stated, for example, that 25 percent of 15-year-olds lack basic reading skills. This kind of thing may have certain repercussions when young people have to stand on their own two legs, she believes. For example, when signing a rental agreement or taking out a loan.

Because some parents (and even some young people) have a greater capacity for hiring tutors than others, equal opportunity will decline and inequality will rise. Tutoring, homework help, exam coaching and thesis guidance: “All these developments make it look as if education has become a free market. Complete with billboards and radio ads.”

Van der Veen still thinks that Dutch higher education is very accessible, especially when compared to the possibilities offered abroad. Van der Veen: “This particular subject was singled out by the inspection this time, but it’s actually the NVAO that monitors whether the programs on offer in higher education still match secondary education and vice versa. It’s about ensuring the quality of education, so the question is: can this program be successfully completed by a student?”

Contrast dye

Minister Van Engelshoven also believes the situation is less than ideal. She fully understands that parents want what’s best for their children. “But it should never depend on whether your parents are capable of paying for extra guidance and exam coaching.”

And the coronavirus crisis? In the Inspectorate’s opinion, it works like a contrast dye. Existing problems are made much more visible.

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