UC | Flexible learning in 2023


Eight o’clock in the evening. I take myself out for a walk. This last hour outside will be spent mulling over the column I’m about to write on flexible learning, also known as ‘paying per credit.’ Over the past year, students have directly experienced what flexible working can entail. The House of Representatives wants this new legislative proposal on flexible education to be completed by 2023.

Flexible learning means that a student pays per credit. The current loan system only facilitates students who pay for a full academic year. The philosophy behind paying per credit is as follows: students pay fees for the courses they plan to take, not unlike a phone subscription that only bills you for the MBs you’ve used and not for the 5000 MB you could have used. Who wouldn’t want that, right?

The House of Representatives included flexible learning in its Strategic Agenda, which means that it will be anchored in legislation as of the academic year 2023-2024. At least, if the pilot, which will run until the end of this year, is positively evaluated. Because the universities in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Tilburg have already been experimenting with flexible learning since 2017. The goal: to see whether this form of paying tuition fee will lead to a more accessible course offering, a better combination of study and additional activities, more development activities and a lower dropout rate. With the adoption of this motion, education seems to take a fundamental direction.

The consequences seem promising for students. Consultancy firm Berenschot recently published an exploratory report, commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The outcome: it will be relatively easy for institutions to (financially) implement flexible learning when offered to a small target group. However, when offered to larger target groups, the implementation will have far reaching (financial and organizational) consequences for institutions of higher education, DUO and Studielink. The budgetary system in higher education will need a serious reorganization in order to cope with the impact of flexible learning. On the other hand, there’s also a chance that the introduction of flexible learning will lead to more students, resulting in more income instead of less.

The minister’s go-ahead will have a positive impact particularly on those students who run their own business, act as caregivers, are a fulltime or parttime member of a student team, or who have other additional activities. On those students who don’t get compensation from the profiling fund. This relatively small target group currently benefits substantially from flexible education.

The clock almost strikes nine o’clock, so I have to hurry home. All in all, there’s a good chance that the minister will give flexible learning a positive evaluation. That means that as of 2023, students will only pay for the credits they expect to gain instead of the total number of credits. The ‘average’ student probably won’t notice much change. But it will have a serious financial impact on an ambitious, entrepreneurial and/or caregiving student.

And the institutions of education? They will hardly be inconvenienced when flexible learning is introduced for a small target group, apart from some administrative ‘flexing’ here and there.

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