“The NSE is an opportunity for students to cast their vote”

The National Student Survey was a highly debated issue over the past two years. In 2019, universities of applied sciences decided not to take part in it. This week, students at research and applied sciences universities will once again receive an invitation to participate. The deans of the Bachelor College and of the Graduate School, Ines Lopez Arteaga and Paul Koenraad, urgently call upon TU/e students to fill out the questionnaire. Koenraad: “Even if you’re satisfied with everything.” It will have a very positive effect on education at TU/e, they say.

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Two years ago, the applied sciences universities announced that they would no longer participate in the National Student Survey (NSE), the annual nationwide satisfaction survey commissioned by website Studiekeuze123. Mistakes relating to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) made the results from the survey unreliable, according to the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. Research universities, on the other hand, continued to participate in the NSE.

By now, minister of education Ingrid van Engelshoven has made participation in the satisfaction survey mandatory. However, due to the corona crisis, the 2020 edition of the NSE was cancelled. Next week, TU/e students will once again find an invitation to participate in the NSE in their mailboxes. And they should definitely do something with that invitation, says Paul Koenraad, dean of the Graduate School.

Koenraad: “The NSE is an opportunity for students to cast their vote annually. This is where you can indicate what you like about your program and what you think should improve. After all input is collected and analyzed, each individual institution receives a report with the scores per program. My colleague Ines Lopez Arteaga and myself will work with that, in consultation with the program directors.”

Highs and lows

Koenraad asks the directors for the three highs that appeared from the questionnaire: “The things they’re most proud of. Ines and I will then use those positive results to inspire other programs with. By sharing these highs university-wide, you also prevent people from having to reinvent the wheel at their own departments.”

But the lows, the points of criticism identified by students in the questionnaire, are equally important. “During our meetings with program directors, we emphatically urge them to work with these criticisms within their departments,” Koenraad says. “The deans can consult the annual reports, which are drawn up by the departments at the end of an academic year and in which the points of improvement with regard to education are addressed, to see what was done with the criticisms from the previous year. And we subsequently discuss that.”

Does Koeraad sometimes need to exert pressure to get a department to go along with those improvements? “No, not at all,” he says with a smile, “there’s always a very convivial atmosphere during those meetings. In the end, we all want the same thing: to assure the best possible education at our university. For example: two years ago, we sat down with Built Environment to discuss the fact that the department didn’t score so well in the field of communicating about their program. Last year’s results from the questionnaire showed that Built Environment had performed much better in that area.”

Series of meetings

For Lopez Arteaga, who was appointed new dean of the Bachelor College in July of last year, those meetings about the departmental annual reports will start next week. She is looking forward to it. “This is the first time I’ll be doing this in my new function, and we will address many issues. We will pay much attention to our students’ employability this time. In other words: do we successfully prepare them for the future job market?” She refers to the new program that was developed for this purpose, ‘Sustainable Employability for Students,’ on which Cursor published an article last week.

Because Lopez Arteaga believes that it’s not just about improvements at individual departments, but about improvements at a central level for the entire university as well. “That’s why it’s important that students take the time as of next week to fill out the NSE, because what they indicate there will eventually have a positive effect on education at TU/e in the broadest sense of the word. This questionnaire wasn’t designed only to serve as input for the compilers of the Keuzegids or Elsevier’s annual special on education.”

Koenraad: “We single out very specific matters, for example the time it takes teachers to grade exams. If the NSE results show that our students think that this takes too long, we will actively try to reduce that time. But I would like to urge students to fill out the questionnaire even if they are satisfied with everything at their program. That also helps us, and subsequently has a positive effect on the Keuzegids, for example. Or, to quote the slogan from a snackbar I used to go to when I was a child: ‘Tell others when you like us, and tell us when you don’t.’”

Koenraad, incidentally, is very curious to find out how the corona crisis and the restrictions within higher education will impact this year’s edition of the NSE. “I can’t imagine that this will not be reflected in the results of the questionnaire. But I have no idea in what way.”

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