Create more space in the academic calendar so that students can catch their breath and appoint more academic advisors so that help is available quickly. These are two points that students who attended the Diversity Breakfast brought to the attention of the Executive Board. According to Charlie Raiser, trained in organizational psychology, the breakfast session produced plenty of feedback and together with Student Diversity Officer Lara Hofstra she filtered out the most important problems. Hofstra and Raiser and two students then presented these to the full Executive Board. “The meeting was intended to show the Executive Board members the issues currently affecting the TU/e student community, among both our internationals and our Dutch students,” Raiser says.
Integration of internationals
The integration of internationals in the university's education system, a process not uniformly regarded as optimal, was one of the topics mentioned by the breakfast guests in early October. "Internationals in particular explained that getting caught in the system was a regular experience,” says Raiser, “and they feel the wait for an academic advisor is too long; it prevents them accessing help quickly. This latter point, the shortage of academic advisors, means students may face delays when asking questions, and sometimes, students say, they are given incorrect information. This adds greatly to their stress and in some cases can have significant financial consequences. For example, if they don't manage to graduate in time and have to re-enroll for a number of months.”
That these problems were raised primarily by international students, says Raiser, is because “the Dutch student maybe manages more easily to find their own way in the system”. Moreover, at the breakfast that morning few Dutch students were present, says Raiser.
Many of the complaints, she reports, relate to what students view as the 'overfull academic calender', which gives students the idea they no longer have any chance during the academic year to catch their breath, or to plan a short vacation.
“They wrote that sometimes the deadline for one study unit falls on a Sunday and the next unit starts the very next day. In addition, periods in which it would be possible to take a vacation often fall just before an exam period or right before certain deadlines,” says Raiser.
The students also described their worries about falling ill. “They reported that anyone who is out of the running for two weeks finds it virtually impossible to catch up. Because the program continues and this creates a snowball effect: the backlog of work only increases,” says Raiser.
According to Raiser, the students also proposed solutions, such as reforming the academic calendar, building in more rest periods in order to reduce stress levels. They also suggested the possibility of holding resits immediately after an exam period, in order to prevent the things still needing to be done from piling up. This is particularly important at the end of the academic year when internationals are keen to travel home as soon as possible. In September the TU/e Young Academy of Engineering (EYAE) argued in favor of grouping all resits in the summer and for giving lecturers teaching-free quartiles.
Raiser was very pleased with the discussion held on these matters with the members of the Executive Board and says that the latter are certainly willing to take action on the points raised. “In the area of student wellbeing, it should be said, much is already being done,” says Raiser, “but I have the impression that this sometimes isn't as well communicated as it could be, so students aren't aware of what is going on behind the scenes. I see that the university really does recognize this problem and is keen to respond quickly. This is part of the reason why they have appointed me to collaborate with Lara Hofstra and look critically at student wellbeing and produce a vision document on the subject. In fact, NPO funding (National Program of Education, ed.) is already being used, among other things, to set up a master class on student wellbeing, to build an e-health platform, and to continue developing a community app and fund its rollout. This is only a start, we are fully aware that more is needed. We expect to complete our vision document on student wellbeing in about April of next year.”