The No Nonsense University


Back when we were looking for a primary school for our eldest son, almost twelve years ago now, two primary school directors published a manifesto for the ‘No Nonsense School.’ It caused quite a bit of controversy at the time, but most of it sounded very appealing to me.

The manifesto started with a summary of some of the ideas primary school boards had to deal with over the course of a single week. The bulk of these ideas, the primary school directors said, were “impossible to implement if we also want our pupils to learn how to read and do math.” The authors of the manifesto then went on to list fifteen nonsensical activities they believed could be scrapped altogether.

In my view, the time has come for a ‘No Nonsense University’ manifesto. A university where teachers have time to teach, and where researchers have time to conduct research. Below, I’ve listed a couple of nonsensical activities I believe we could do without:

(1) TU/e Science Day

A day during which the members of our university’s overburdened scientific staff celebrate the fact that they’re scientists. One of the many days in the year during which there’s no time left for actual scientific activities. That’s why many scientists decided not to pay any attention to this day, except for a few individuals and their children who enjoyed some of the many snacks on offer.

(2) Momentum

A day during which all teaching activities momentarily come to a grinding halt because everyone is supposed to hand out diplomas to students who already received a diploma somewhere during the previous year.

(3) Online education

Don’t come to Eindhoven if online education is your thing. And online education isn’t ‘free’ and ‘easy to scale’ either. Proper online education requires different skills from teachers and a lot of maintenance.

(4) Challenge Based Learning

And other fashionable words. As a concept, there’s basically nothing wrong with it, and it would work just fine at a university with a student-staff ratio of 2:1. But with our university’s student numbers and the limited financing we receive from the government and industry, this pedagogical approach simply isn’t feasible.

(5) Binding directives

Notice that the term is ‘directives’ instead of ‘guidelines,’ which sounds so much friendlier. Why is it that central bodies feel compelled to impose their detailed ideas about education on members of the scientific staff? We all worked hard to obtain our Basic Teaching Qualification, which proves that we’re competent in various aspects of teaching. Why don’t you have faith in our abilities as teachers?!

I’ll conclude this column with words similar to those used by the authors of the manifesto. A no nonsense university shouldn’t be the same as a boring university. If we manage to put all the energy that we get from scrapping these activities into teaching and research activities, we might make courses such as Algebra, Advanced Nuclear Physics and perhaps even Statistics fun again.

And to all of you who are planning to go on vacation, I would like to pose the following question: which activities would you like to see scrapped?

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