Minister Dijkgraaf is keen to relieve the pressure on freshers. If it were up to him, the norm set for the binding recommendation on continuation of studies (BSA) would be lowered to no more than 30 credits for the first year, with students required to gain another 30 credits during their second year.
The universities of applied sciences are on board, but the universities are dead set against the change. On Tuesday an open letter to the minister written by the rectors, with campaign group WOinActie and four university student councils as co-signatories, was published in De Telegraaf, a national daily paper, Don't lower the norm, they argue. The student councils who let their voices be heard are from Leiden University, the University of Twente, Wageningen University & Research and Delft University of Technology. TU/e students were not represented.
Here in Eindhoven, Mette Schouten is faction president of Groep-één and sits on the University Council's Education Committee, together with other members of her party, DAS representatives and representatives of the staff faction. “The committee's opinion is still divided and that's why we didn't sign the letter. On the other hand, the committee is unanimous in its opposition to any lowering of the BSA without proper preparation. Leaving aside the issue of whether, from an educational perspective, the BSA is a desirable form of motivation and whether this tool is in line with our educational vision, the BSA certainly has an effect on students. It can impact how students prioritize or over-prioritize their studies, and some students will prioritize in a positive way while some others will do so in a negative way. So we must be aware of the consequences that abolishing the BSA could have on our education system,” says Schouten.
In their letter in the newspaper, the rectors state their opposition to the BSA being relaxed on the grounds that could lead to weaker students progressing to the second year. The rectors: “More students means more work pressure for lecturers. In a sector where work pressure is already very high, this is the last thing we should be promoting.”
Learning to learn
Schouten: “The University Council's Education Committee wants to use the momentum of this debate to draw the university's attention to its responsibility to guide students as they learn to learn. Preferably in the most individual way possible without the need for too much, rigid, external motivation. We aren't there yet as a university, and we are keen to encourage the university to consider the potential consequences of lowering the BSA. In a letter to the university, the committee will set out its views, together with suggestions for implementation.”
For students, it may be beneficial to know in good time where they stand. If they are not suited to their degree program, they'll know within a year and can move to a program that is right for them. For some students, the BSA is the big stick kept in reserve: figures collected at universities show that some students make the effort to achieve the BSA only to backslide in subsequent years. If you raise the norm, they'll work harder. Once a student falls behind they almost never catch up fully.
But there are also disadvantages. Students can find it hard to hit their stride in the first year, for all sorts of reasons. They may be unaccustomed to living away from home, they are having to master studying independently … They have plenty to worry about. “Too much pressure has a paralyzing effect and can cause a drop in performance, so it distorts the impression of whether the student is suited to a particular study program,” says Dijkgraaf. Not all students experience this of course, but some do.
The national student organizations ISO and LSVb are less interested in the finer points of the matter than TU/e’s Education Committee. They have received Dijkgraaf's plans for a lower BSA with jubilation.