He addresses the court: “I don’t know what your first year was like, but I would not be surprised if you hadn’t made it all the way here, either, if you had attended Erasmus University.”
Folsche is addressing the Higher Education Appeals Court (CBHO) in The Hague, the highest court governing higher education in the Netherlands. For this reason, it is the last resort for students who are disputing a decision made by their university. The three judges and both parties’ barristers are not wearing gowns in this courtroom. After all, this is a court of law for students. People feel a little more approachable this way.
Today, CBHO is looking into the N=N standard. Can students be told to quit their degree programmes if they fail to obtain all sixty credits they are supposed to obtain in their first year? Can such students be considered ‘unsuited for a degree’? In association with the National Student Legal Services Office (LSR) and a barrister, Folsche, one female student is seeking to force CBHO to issue a guideline statement on the matter. If CBHO decides on the basis of this case that the N=N standard is unreasonable, EUR will have to come up with a new standard, which will be the end of N=N.
But where is the student?
But the person who initiated all this – the student herself – is not in attendance today, which obviously baffles the court. “Your client is not here,” says the judge. “Why is that?” Says Folsche: “She is required to attend seminars today.” The judge’s response: “But in the legal proceedings prior to this case, with CBE [the Examinations Appeals Board, i.e. EUR’s internal appeals board – ed.] and with the Examinations Board, your client never showed up, either. Why did she not take the opportunity to answer questions then?”
Folsche is unable to provide the judge with an answer. He is not entirely sure what degree the student is taking, either. “Do you even talk to your client?” the judge says jokingly. A few people laugh. Folsche points out that facts will suffice in this case, and that his client did not experience any mitigating circumstances that caused her to fail to obtain the required sixty credits.
He feels that the N=N standard is a measure taken because EUR has a single-minded focus on results, and that students are not necessarily unsuited for a degree if they fail to obtain the full number of credits in their first year. In other words, he wants a guideline statement on the rule dictating how many credits students must obtain in order to be allowed to continue their degrees.
Later, the court asks what good the case is to the student, since she has already switched to a different degree programme. The answer: “Because she received a negative enrolment decision, she is unable to resume her degree.”
'N=N is more than just a sixty-credits standard'
Wim Kleinjan is Erasmus University’s spokesperson, while Ruben Houweling, ESL’s school director, provides more detailed explanations where necessary. Houweling tries to give the court a better understanding of ESL’s considerations at the time of the introduction of the N=N system and is eager to emphasise at the hearing that N=N is more than just a sixty-credits standard. “We must take care not to focus exclusively on the sixty ECTS credits, because this will result in the didactic concept behind it being ignored.”
He explains the nature of the didactic concept: “Basically, it’s small-group teaching, with quick re-sits and unlimited opportunities to compensate for poor marks with excellent marks in Year 1. We are much less strict in the subsequent years, and students are given ample opportunity to go abroad, do a work placement or take additional subjects.”
Using statistical data, EUR’s Barbara Salverda shows that Erasmus University does not have more first-year drop-outs than other Dutch universities. Folsche knows the numbers, but says in his closing comments that he would like to see some other statistics, as well. “Does EUR ever ask students to leave who then go on to graduate from other, similar education institutions?” His point: if that is the case, EUR is rejecting students who are actually quite capable of obtaining a university degree.
CBHO will issue a written verdict within six weeks.