Universities and universities of applied sciences should overhaul the binding study advice (BSA) system. Education judges at the Board of Appeal for Higher Education (CBHO) reject the current practice, as is evident from a number of remarkable judgements.

Almost all universities and universities of applied sciences impose strict standards on their first-year students. They have to achieve a certain number of credits, otherwise they will be dismissed from the programme, which is called a negative study advice.

A series of rulings made by the Board of Appeal for Higher Education (CBHO) since 2014 shows that educational institutions have become so severe that they are violating the law en masse.

One chance for a BSA

After the first year, many programmes say: you have earned enough credits and you can continue with the programme, but you will then have to finish the rest of your propaedeutic year in the second year. However, this does not comply with the law: the programme only has one chance to give a recommendation. If a student is told after the first year that he or she may continue, no further conditions can be attached to him or her being able to keep his or her place on the programme.

Programmes are allowed to issue interim warnings (and they are even obliged to do so), but they are not allowed to administer more than one judgement. What they can do is decide to postpone the advice as long as the student hasn’t yet rounded off the propaedeutic year.

Several lawsuits

In 2014 a student won a lawsuit against the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and since then judges have repeated this point on several other occasions. Yet it still happens. The University of Groningen does it, for example, and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences still hasn’t adapted the policy.

To circumvent the problem, some institutions issue a ‘suspended recommendation’ (e.g., TU Delft). They basically say: we are not going to reject you at the moment, but we will do so if you do not complete your propaedeutic year quickly enough.

But in 2015, the judges also upset the apple cart in a case against The Hague University of Applied Sciences. A student had earned fifty credits from the propaedeutic year and was allowed to continue, only to be dismissed in the second year because he had not obtained the remaining ten credits. The judges ruled that this was against the law.

Experiment in Leiden off the table

This also plays a role in Leiden University’s decision to end a controversial experiment with the BSA for second-year students. The university had lost a complicated lawsuit, which involved a Leiden student who had passed enough courses from the propaedeutic year and was allowed to continue to the second year. As such, he received a positive BSA. But by the end of the second year he still hadn’t passed the remaining exams from his propaedeutic year and he had to leave. That was the idea behind the experiment: students should also be able to keep up the pace in the second year.

But the judges ruled against this. You can dismiss someone (or not) in their propaedeutic year, but you only get one chance to do this. In the experiment, Leiden had the opportunity to dismiss just one student who hadn’t achieved enough credits in his second year. But you cannot pick and choose between these two years. According to the judge, you cannot give a positive judgment about the progress in the first year and then give a negative judgement later on. Although the student still hadn’t passed the remaining propaedeutic courses, the university is no longer in a position to say or do anything about it.

Leiden University has drawn consequences from this. Whether other education institutions will follow remains to be seen.