“The criticism absolutely came as a surprise,” programme director Han van Ruler told EM. “The changes we had implemented in recent years, which is to say, prioritising the Double Degree, saved our faculty and were a huge success. The Double Degree allows us to offer philosophy classes to the university’s other students. It attracts a lot of students, and we think we did a great job designing the degree programme. We actually felt we were on the right track, so we were very surprised to receive such a harsh accreditation report.”

Collaborate more intensively

Nevertheless, Van Ruler believes in hindsight that many of the criticisms were justified. According to the accreditation report, one of the main problems with the Double Degree is the fact that the programme does not clearly tie in with other disciplines. “They were right about that,” says Van Ruler. “And it’s forcing us to collaborate more intensively with other faculties.”

“The whole point of the types of courses we teach is that they allow you to reflect on your other degree from the vantage point of philosophy,” adds programme coordinator Lena Schots. “But some of our courses were taught to students from four different disciplines. There was room for improvement.”

The Double Degree must offer more subjects that tie in with the students’ other degrees. “We will offer more subjects called ‘Philosophy of [an EUR discipline]’,” Van Ruler explains. “Those courses will be taught in association with lecturers affiliated with other faculties, and will be geared specifically to students attending those particular faculties.” The programme director thinks ESPhil will not be able to cater programmes to every single degree programme taught at EUR, but it should be able to cater programmes to overarching disciplines within faculties, e.g. ‘Philosophy of Economics’, ‘Philosophy of Social Sciences’, or ‘Philosophy of Medicine’.

Thesis supervision 'major ground for concern'

The accreditation committee also felt that the way in which students who were writing their Bachelor’s theses were being supervised constituted ‘a major ground for concern’. The report said that students were left to their own devices too much, and were not sufficiently taught the academic standards their theses had to meet. “We actually thought that giving the students a lot of freedom in terms of picking their own subject was a good thing. But the criticism was justified. Because Double Degree students aren’t used to writing philosophical Bachelor’s theses. They need much more supervision in doing so, so that they understand exactly what we want them to do and are able to reflect on their main study subject.”

The faculty hopes to resolve this issue by teaching Double Degree students more academic skills particularly relevant to philosophers. “Not in a separate course,” Schots explains, but rather throughout the various subjects the students will be taking. In addition, the faculty intends that students attend more seminars. According to the accreditation committee, Double Degree students currently don’t attend enough of the seminars offered.

Not enough politics

The accreditation committee was also critical of one of the faculty’s Master’s specialisation tracks. The report stated that ESPhil’s Master’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) contained too little of the second P, i.e., politics. “The Committee said: basically, you’re not doing any politics at all. To be honest, we don’t agree with that statement at all, because everything we do has a political dimension. But we are taking the complaint seriously.”

The temporary solution is to rename the specialisation track. From now on, ‘Philosophy, Politics and Economics’ will be called ‘Philosophy and Economics’, ‘just to prevent misunderstandings’. “Moreover, we are planning to redesign that Master’s programme soon,” Van Ruler continues. “We wish to focus more on the fact that Erasmus University teaches philosophy geared towards society. So for the time being, we can do without that second P.”

The faculty has been granted two years to solve its issues. At the end of those two years, NVAO will pay another visit to check whether the plans for improvement have brought about the required changes.