What ideas does TU/e have for a smarter academic year?

Over the coming years, Dutch universities will be taking part in so-called ‘smarter’ academic year pilots, with the aim of reducing pressure on students and lecturers. Even though TU/e plans to take part in these experiments, it is careful not to ‘simply’ pick one of several pilots offered by education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf, project organizers Trijntje Kraak and Daisy van der Schaft say. A study will be carried out first, in order to arrive at substantiated and broadly supported adjustments to the university’s academic calendar.

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TU/e and its various counterparts have no fewer than 42 pilot projects to choose from. All of these are intended to make the academic year leaner and meaner, and to reduce some of the pressure on students and lecturers.

The pilot projects are divided into five categories: curriculum revision, the application of blended learning, redesigning exam periods, spreading education and research, and pilots that combine all of the above. Each university has the ministry of education’s permission to experiment with three pilots of their choosing, and some universities have already started.

What’s keeping TU/e? “It’s easy for universities that adopt a decentralized approach to education to carry out a pilot at one program. However, since TU/e’s educational activities are organized centrally in our bachelor college and graduate school, such an experiment has far-reaching consequences from the very outset,” Daisy van der Schaft explains. She is responsible for projects at ESA and is a member of the core team whose job it is to make TU/e’s academic year smarter.


There is also a practical reason why things can’t be sped up, says Trijntje Kraak, who is in charge of the project in her capacity of external project leader. “The academic calendar for 2023-2024 has already been determined, therefore, we can only start to make adjustments for the academic year 2024-2025.”

As far as planning is concerned (also see intranet), this has the following consequences: a study will be carried out before the summer, followed after the summer break by a first proposal, to be discussed with the relevant bodies and assessed in terms of feasibility. If the university wishes to make any changes to the academic calendar 2024-2025, a decision needs to be made before the end of 2023. The pilot, incidentally, runs until 2026, which makes it possible for TU/e to also implement changes for the year 2025-2026.

One of the advantages that comes with TU/e’s decision to take its time, is that it allows us to learn from our neighbors, Kraak adds. “We get to see how successful certain changes at other universities are, and whether these changes might help us too.”


The aim of the study is to come up with the best possible ways to adjust the academic calendar in such a way that it reduces workload and stress for lecturers and students, without jeopardizing quality of education. “And without shifting the workload to our support staff, who make sure that everything concerning education runs smoothly,” Van der Schaft adds.

There is no such thing as a perfect solution, Kraak and Van der Schaft say. “That’s because there are so many interests at stake. Our aim is to find the best possible solutions that are beneficial to the largest group.”

The study starts with a questionnaire for students and lecturers. The goal is to determine which factors – related to the academic calendar – cause stress, and which factors might help reduce that stress. This will result in two scenarios, which will then be submitted to both target groups. “We hope for a good response, also because it’s imperative that we have support if we want to implement any future adjustments,” Kraak says. The questionnaires will be sent out in May and June.

Exam periods

Is it too soon to say which pilots might be suitable for TU/e? Van der Schaft prefers not to use the term pilot at all. “With a university-wide step like this, we carefully consider in advance whether or not it will work. We don’t want to have to say after a year ‘let’s reverse our decision,’ because that would only lead to more work pressure.”

But what step could TU/e take? In view of the importance of quality of education, making changes to the number of lecture weeks is not the preferred option, Van der Schaft says. “The title of the project after all is a smarter academic year, not a shorter year,” Kraak adds. “But everything is still open.” Revising the exam and retake periods, for example, is a more logical option.

Education-free quartiles

The Eindhoven Young Academy of Engineering also is by no means in favor of shortening the academic year, EYAE chair Yoeri van de Burgt told Cursor a year and a half ago. Its national counterpart, the Young Academy, on the other hand, is in favor of a shorter academic year. TU/e’s young scientists believe that it would be better to create more room for research by scheduling education-free quartiles for lecturers.

It remains to be seen, incidentally, whether shortening the academic year is legally even possible, newspaper NRC (€) warned last month. Students are required by law to invest 42 weeks fulltime in their studies each year. This includes, besides lectures, other activities such as self study. Nevertheless, the question is whether it will be possible to invest those hours when the academic year is shortened. Does TU/e see any risks regarding this issue? “We believe that there is enough room,” Kraak says.


In conclusion, Van der Schaft would like to paint a broader image. “We don’t believe that changing the annual calendar is the only key to solving the problem of work and study pressure. So many factors play a role in this issue. Think of publication pressure, research applications, valorization and administration for researchers, as well as financial concerns, BSA pressure, and CV building for students. And then there’s the huge intrinsic drive of both groups.”

That’s why it’s so important to take notice of everything else that’s being done at TU/e to reduce work pressure and study stress, Van der Schaft means to say. “Every contribution counts.” Think of HRM’s work pressure program, Kraak adds: “But it’s our task to find out how a smarter academic year can contribute to solving the problem.”


Lecturers, researchers and students who would like to contribute to the study by filling out the questionnaire and possibly by taking part in an in-depth interview, are invited to contact Trijntje Kraak.

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