'I was baffled when I heard of the plans'
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) was the first to experiment with N=N under Professor of Psychology Henk van der Molen’s term as dean. He is one of the earliest advocates of the policy.
“I was baffled when I heard of the plans. I feel the Minister has completely missed the point. N=N is in actually in the student’s interest. We have meticulously researched the effects of its implementation: comparing the academic results achieved by 12,432 students before N=N to those of 17,036 students after its introduction. The difference is spectacular. The number of students who successfully completed their first-year rose by no fewer than 23 percent. The share of drop-outs remained the same. Even after three years, you can still see the benefits: under N=N, more students are able to round off their programme within the allotted term. It amounts to a 9 percent increase.” 1
“This idea of the BSA leading to more stress has never been substantiated. When you are forced to study longer because you need to resit first-year exams, you need to borrow even more money. I would imagine that’s far more stressful. Since N=N was first introduced, Psychology and Medicine students on average spend two hours a week more on their studies than before. And the grade average over the entire year has also increased by almost half a point. Although N=N was introduced first and foremost in the students’ interest, it has also proven good for EUR as a whole. It has not only improved our output, it also improves the quality of the provided education. In other words, I hope that the political actors at both the national and university levels will do their best to dissuade the Minister of her regrettable plans.”
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Medicine worked with Nominal=Normal for three years, says Andrea Woltman, programme coordinator for the Medicine bachelor.They decided to relax the 60-credit threshold last year, adopting a BSA requirement of 45 credits.
“We’re still waiting for analyses regarding the new BSA norm, but the output in the Medicine programme has always been high. We hardly have any drop-outs. Until N=N, that is, when loads of students started using the 1 February deadline. For many of them, becoming a doctor is something they’ve dreamed of since childhood. If you scored poorly on the first exams, you could avoid a negative BSA by quitting the programme before 1 February and starting over again the following year. We then decided, partly on the basis of our own research, to establish a more desirable credit minimum for the Medicine bachelor programme.”
“Students adapt their approach to the bar you set for them. You don’t want them to be weighed down in their second year by too many first-year exams that need to be resit. That only leads to stress and possibly to extra delays. That’s how we arrived at 45 credits, but what led the Minister to decide on 40? No idea. We don’t want to go any lower. And why does it have to be 40 credits across the board? It makes no sense to measure everyone by the same yardstick. The situation here at EUR is a case in point.”
“The BSA works as an incentive, particularly for boys. And N=N has reduced the disparity between boys and girls. It can really help to determine whether a particular programme suits a particular student. Except you don’t really need it in Medicine’s case.”
“The Minister’s concerns about students’ mental health are legitimate. But I doubt whether tweaking things via the BSA will make a real difference. Any requirement you set for someone creates its own stress. So why would this be a solution? Did they research it? On which grounds are they proposing this? Hearing her expound on her plans left me baffled and amazed. I definitely don’t see this as a good idea on the Minister’s part.”
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Ivo Arnold’s research focuses on effectiveness and efficiency in Economics education. As programme director at Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), Professor Arnold bears responsibility for the design, implementation and evaluation of educational reforms.
“The Minister’s statements came as a bolt out of the blue. At present, the law only stipulates that first-year programmes represent a minimum of 60 ECTS credits. It’s up to the universities to decide how many credits students have to earn to move on to the next year. Nor should this be decided centrally. Educational institutions need to keep the freedom to determine what’s best for each programme. What’s next? The minister gets to decide how often students can resit an exam?”
“Gymnasium students who fail to earn one-third of the points total are advised to switch to a different school type. The message currently being sent by the Minister is that it’s OK to miss that many credits. They’re basically ditching the standard of performance that students were raised on.”
“N=N is a key part of EUR’s approach to education. And the policy is clearly in the student’s interest. Too often I’ve seen how students keep muddling on. It’s bad for their motivation and can put considerable pressure on them in financial terms. We can help students avoid this situation. More or less all students who were able to earn 40 to 60 credits before the introduction of N=N are currently able to round everything off in their first year. This leaves them more room for valuable extracurricular activities during their remaining years as a student.”
- Van der Molen performed this study together with former rector Henk Schmidt, Gerard Baars and Peter Hermus (Risbo), ESE programme director Ivo Arnold, and Guus Smeets, Director of Education at the Department of Psychology Education & Child Studies ↩︎