Four years ago, Sabina Adim embarked on a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, only to feel that the subject matter was very superficial. “I wanted to go more in depth. I wanted to get to know human nature and gain a bit more of an insight into the ideas behind the theories,” Sabina says. So after one year, she embarked on a Psychology degree, and found she quite enjoyed the combination of those two degrees. “Not long afterwards, I established a company, and I wanted to learn to understand the legal aspects, so I took up a degree in Law, as well.”

Doing three degrees at a time requires a lot of organising. “Sometimes it’s hard, because each faculty has different rules,” says Sabina. “And lectures are often taught at the same time, but that’s not too much of a problem in itself; I’ll catch up at home.”

Not satisfied

She loves having the freedom to schedule her days as she pleases, but does feel that the fact that she is able to take three degrees simultaneously shows that the system has its flaws. “You don’t have to be extremely smart to be able to do this. As long as you manage your time efficiently and properly read the subject matter you’re told to read, you’ll be OK,” she goes on to say. “The main thing I learned was that the university measures very well how students perform in memory tests. You see, we were only assessed on how well we were able to retain information by means of multiple-choice questions.”

Sabina feels that the university is not teaching its students critical thinking skills. She says there is hardly any scope for discussion. “At the Business Administration department, we tend to get the kind of lectures where the lecturer is talking and we listen. At the Psychology department, we are more likely to work in groups, but we also have subject matter imposed on us, and there is no room for opinions of our own. Rather, we read out regurgitated theories to each other,” she says. “And in our seminars, we have to repeat what some theoretician once said. It means we have some knowledge of the subject, but it doesn’t mean we develop new thought structures.”

We're not sheep

“When I was at primary school, I wasn’t fluent in Dutch, which made me feel very insecure,” says Sabina. Her parents come from Afghanistan, and her mother fled to the Netherlands (on her own) when she was expecting Sabina. “Because I wasn’t fluent, I wasn’t able to join in the lessons properly or make friends.”

At one point she was told to repeat a year. “I thought I simply wasn’t smart enough.” She worked harder than ever, and in the end, she was able to keep up with the rest. From that moment onwards, it was the other way around: Sabina missed having a challenge and couldn’t get enough of extra assignments – the more arithmetic, the better. “I remember my teacher saying, ‘Once you’re a grown-up, you’ll be able to go to university, where you will be properly challenged’. I was promised a fantasy in which a university is a place where you’ll be intellectually challenged and triggered.”

That was not her experience, though, she tells us. “These days, we are nothing but numbers to universities. We must obtain high marks, graduate and then have a career elsewhere. But students aren’t sheep who must be passed through a slaughterhouse.”

Broaching the subject

Sabina will complete her degrees in Business Administration and Psychology this year, but does not yet know whether she will complete her Law degree, because she ‘only needs the knowledge, not the degree certificate.’ Now that she is nearly done with her degrees, she will broach the subject of her dissatisfaction with the Psychology department. In association with two other students, she is developing a teaching method. “It’s early days, but our method emphasises the development of children, thus allowing them to make the most of their years in education. My hope for the long term is that they will learn critical thinking skills and will also learn how to recognise and remove obstacles.”

Lastly, Sabina thinks that EUR should involve its students in societal issues more. “Society needs new insights from students. Today’s knowledge must be applied to today’s problems.”