Rector Frank Baaijens and the deans at TU/e await the arrival of May the first with great interest. Because that’s when prospective students need to have registered for a program, which means that TU/e will know what influx numbers it can expect next academic year. The Business Intelligence portal indicates that the current number of advance registrations for TU/e programs is at 3,811, with an expected influx of 1,829 first-year students linked to this. That’s a significantly lower number than at the start of the current academic year (2,154 first-year students), which would indicate a decrease of four hundred Dutch students coming in September. That decline is partly compensated by a growing influx of international students. These figures need to be looked at with the necessary caution, Baaijens says, “because the current pandemic makes it difficult to predict what the Dutch prospective students are likely to do.”
Baaijens: “Will they wait a year before they start with a program, because they fear for much online teaching in the first months? Or will they take the step after all, in the belief that the possibilities for physical education will significantly increase at the start of the new academic year? That is what we hope for and what we will work hard for to achieve: getting as many students and staff members back to the campus as possible.” Baaijens says that efforts are being made to provide high school seniors who still haven’t made up their minds with more clarity, “for example by talking to prospective students over the phone, and by inviting them to the campus for a one-on-one introductory visit.”
Baaijens wouldn’t mind, incidentally, if the university once again welcomed some 2,000 first-year students coming academic year. “We’ve had an influx number of around 2,000 first-year students for the past five years now, and that keeps the total number of students at around 13,000. But that is our maximum capacity. This number allows us to guarantee the quality of education we strive for, which is necessary if we want to deliver the highly skilled engineers that companies in the Brainport region in particular have such a strong demand for. Our current average teacher-student ratio is 1:21, and that shouldn’t increase if you look at our small-scale model of education. We would prefer to lower that ratio a bit more to 1:17. And if we exceed the number of 13,000 students, we would also run into serious problems as far as our capacity for accommodating students is concerned.”
Constructing a new building on the campus grounds is not a viable option, Baaijens says. “We simply don’t have the means for that now, and apart from that, realizing a new building takes much preparation time. It also has a serious impact on the budget for years to come. Consider the upcoming renovation of Gemini, for example, which accommodates Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. That renovation will cost the university roughly one hundred million euros, and our balance sheet will show an annual expense of ten million euros. That doesn’t just include depreciation costs, but also maintenance, cleaning, energy, security, et cetera. And the money you spend on a building can’t be spent on your employees.”
The university doesn’t need to introduce additional intake limits in order to maintain the level of 13,000 students, the rector says. An intake limit applies to the following three Bachelor’s programs next academic year: Industrial Design, Built Environment and Computer Science & Engineering. The Bachelor’s program Mechanical Engineering has made language proficiency at NT2 level (Dutch as second language) mandatory for students who want to start in September. In January, program director of Mechanical Engineering Hans Kuerten said that a return to an intake limit for the academic year 2022-2023 is inevitable. When asked about this, Baaijens says that this matter is currently being debated with the department.
He believes, incidentally, that in light of the demand in industry, certain programs still have room for growth, both in the Bachelor’s and in the Master’s program. “Think of Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics, or Chemical Engineering & Chemistry. There’s great demand for graduates from those programs at companies such as ASML, for example. But this shouldn’t lead to a sudden increase in influx numbers in the direction of 2,500 first-year students,” he hastens to add. “We’ll need extra means if we reach those figures, and as long as The Hague doesn’t provide us with that, we need to be careful not to burden our staff members - who have been working hard enough as it is due to the corona crisis - with any additional tasks. Currently, a teacher accounts for approximately one thousand credits at many programs. That’s too much, and leaves too little time for the research task. Because when it comes to research, we also emphatically aim for top quality.”
Baaijens hopes that the scientific and auxiliary staff will use the summer holidays to recover from the past corona year. “We see that people took far fewer holidays and worked extremely hard to make sure that everything runs smoothly. I therefore issue the following urgent advice: take your leave days during the summer holidays. We will not implement any major changes after the summer break. That way, we hope that everyone can start the new academic year at a normal working level.”