For a while now calls have been heard for the tuition fee to be reduced. Why? Because the quality of education has declined due to the corona crisis and the emergence of online education, say supporters. As a domino effect, students may not complete their studies on schedule. I can certainly see where this sentiment is coming from, but the calls sit uncomfortably with me. Where is the appreciation for all those lecturers and auxiliary staff who have moved mountains of extra work in recent months?
Educational quality in the Netherlands, how exactly would you define that? Every year this question prompts dozens of institutes and organizations to send out questionnaires, committees to set off on missions, data to be gathered and interviews to be held. This work gives rise to assessments, rankings and guides designed to equip the prospective student to hack their way through the jungle of higher education. And, naturally, any time you top a ranking you are going to work that into your institute's marketing strategy. Understandably, the plodders keep it under their hats.
Where the spotlight shines depends on which organization is doing the study. Aspects commonly examined are the lecturer-student ratio, the scale (small is good), and the facilities available to students. Does all this lead ultimately to an unequivocal definition of educational quality? I'd say it doesn't seem very likely.
Evidently, in recent months, when education was being offered extensively online, there was a significant decline in quality across the board. Various student organizations are now arguing for a reduction in the tuition fee as declining educational quality is delaying the completion of studies, and so the student is entitled to compensation. Let's not forget, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven was quick to propose a scheme for final-year students who could run into delays in graduating.
For me, the sticking point in this issue of the decline in quality comes when I weigh it up against the huge efforts made by lecturers and auxiliary staff to keep education going. Online, from their home offices, distracted by their children, or filming their lectures in an empty lecture theater on campus, learning quickly and under great time pressure. As far as I can judge, they went about this challenge in a very decent way. This is not to deny that the last four months of the academic year 2019-2020 were unlike what had gone before. But in this respect, the education sector was in no way unique, I believe.
Well done, I would therefore say, and leave it at that. As far as I'm concerned, there is no need for large groups of students to start applauding their lecturers. These individuals took up the challenge and put their shoulders to the wheel as best they could. Just got on with it.
I hope that by now everyone realizes that in these tricky times, pretty much everything, and that includes education, is different than what it used to be. I still think of education as a privilege and so speaking as a boomer I feel inclined to say: count your blessings and focus on what is still going well, and appreciate how much effort this has taken on the part of the lecturers and auxiliary staff at your institution. If this were John F. Kennedy speaking, right about now he would add a great quote.