A shorter academic year: yay or nay?

We need to shorten the academic year, to lower workloads and allow for more time for research. Is the plan devised by The Young Academy gaining traction? While some love the idea, others are quick to point out the risks.

photo Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock

Dutch lecturers are currently spending over two months more than their colleagues abroad on teaching, as shown in a report published by The Young Academy earlier this week.

The report concludes that this needs to change, because: research and other core tasks are jeopardized by the time spent on teaching and examination. Moreover, students and lecturers are also experiencing a high workload with barely any down time during the academic year that runs between the months of September and July.

Periods free from teaching

So what is the solution? The number of teaching and exam weeks needs to be reduced, the periods free from teaching should be strictly monitored and the education calendar should be more flexible.

The latter is a recommendation issued by The Young Academy because of the differences between academic disciplines: mainly the exact sciences benefit from more teaching weeks because this allows more time for research activities in labs for example.

According to The Young Academy, fewer teaching weeks will also give students more autonomy in their studies. In short, plenty of advantages, according to the writers of the report.


But the Comenius Network of educators, who focus on the innovation of higher education in the Netherlands, is not yet convinced. They agree that the workload in higher education needs to be tackled but they believe that simply shortening the academic year comes with too many risks.

According to co-chair Marion Tillema, it is possible to provide the same, or better yet, superior, quality of education in less time. But she believes this requires a thorough review of the educational system. “The current system is already under pressure, so we believe reducing tuition time at present would pose too great of a risk to the quality of education”, Tillema says.

The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) has similar concerns. “Reducing workloads is a great goal, but too risky if you want to do the same in less time”, according to chairperson Ama Boahene. What might help is reducing the number of exams to create more time. “But a thorough review of degree programs would be necessary first.”

And the Dutch National Students' Association (ISO) emphasises that these plans should not be the result of financial considerations. “But of course we can talk about it”, says chairperson Lisanne de Roos.

Serious talks

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands views the plans more positively. Chairperson Pieter Duisenberg is interested in having “serious talks” with The Young Academy about the topic. The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences has also observed a high workload for lecturers and researchers and is “very interested” in reviewing the proposal.

The General Union of Education (AOb) has shown the greatest enthusiasm, stating that they “fully support” the plans and that they believe it is “a fantastic tool for reducing workloads”. The Union believes more use could be made of digital and independent education.

According to the General Union of Education, a shorter academic year could also help lower workloads at universities of applied sciences, although the link between teaching time and less research applies to a lesser degree there. The Union would like to see a follow-up study on the topic.

On Wednesday Cursor will post the reaction of the TU/e Young Academy of Engineering, which will meet for a consultation Tuesday.

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