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Nominal is Normal

Early 2018, a student filed a lawsuit against the Erasmus University about Nominal is…

Minister Van Engelshoven seeks to enact a new law in which the requirements for first-year students are relaxed, so as to reduce the level of psychological pressure experienced by students. However, the Minister (who represents the D66 party) will require a majority of MPs to vote in favour of her proposal. Since the proposal is not part of the coalition agreement, the coalition parties (VVD, CDA, ChristenUnie and D66) are all entitled to make up their own minds about it.

If the proposal is adopted, the new rule will not enter into effect until the next academic year at the earliest. The Minister hopes that the education institutions will take steps towards relaxing their requirements for first-year students of their own accord before that time.

Unnecessary failure

“By requiring students to obtain fifty or sixty credits in order to be allowed to stay after their first year, you are hitting students hard precisely when they are at their most vulnerable, which is at the start of their degree,” Van Engelshoven stated. She believes the requirements are mainly affecting students who are the first in their families to go to university and who are having some difficulty getting used to student life. The Minister also hopes that her proposal will give late bloomers a fighting chance of obtaining a degree.

The binding study advice issued after Year 1 was introduced to determine quickly whether a student is right for a particular degree programme. Universities use the decision to prevent students from struggling for years and still ending up without a degree.

Many universities currently require students to obtain more than forty credits in their first year at university. Wageningen University is the only university to require forty credits across the board, and many degree programmes offered by Radboud University Nijmegen come with a 40-credit minimum as well. For its part, EUR has gone the opposite way: apart from medical students, all EUR students must obtain sixty credits in one year in order to be allowed to continue their degree. Several degree programmes offered by Maastricht University also come with a sixty-credit requirement.

'Astonishing' results at EUR

When the Nominal = Normal (N=N) system was introduced in 2012, the first results were hailed as ‘astonishing’. Nevertheless, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) concluded earlier this year that the system, along with the new student loan system, has resulted in students suffering more mental health issues.

“Erasmus University has not seen any evidence that the binding study advice is causing students to experience increased psychological pressure,” EUR stated. “There is no proven correlation between having to pass all your first-year exams in one go and suffering mental health issues. And if students are indeed experiencing increased academic pressure, this is partly due to social media and to the new student loans as well, as a nation-wide study has shown.”

However, the university is keen to talk to the Minister: “We will be very happy to see the Minister and explain to her why we use the study advice we do. It is part of a package of measures, also including motivational teaching, designed to help students successfully obtain their degrees.”