The binding study advice is intended to quickly establish whether students are suited for a specific degree programme – or would be better off choosing a different study. However, it remains to be seen whether this instrument actually works. Minister Van Engelshoven commissioned a study into the BSA’s impact in practice. The conclusion: there are huge disparities between how the different institutions implement this policy.
It starts with the credit minimum adopted for the BSA itself. Among the reviewed institutions (six universities of applied sciences and five universities) this actually ranges from 36 to 60 credits. On average, the universities of applied sciences adopt a slightly higher norm than the universities.
Although this credit total isn’t the only BSA criterion. That’s why the researchers have also examined the various conditions and criteria that establish whether or not students satisfy the BSA standard. These include factors like compensation schemes, resit opportunities and compulsory courses. And each institution turns out to set its own requirements. For example, only three universities of applied sciences allow students to compensate for a fail with a pass mark, and none of the universities have selected compulsory courses in the context of the BSA.
There is also considerable variation within the institutions’ respective student counselling programmes. While most universities of applied sciences pro-actively organise coaching sessions for students who have fallen behind, universities only take this step after a student explicitly requests such support. Moreover, in many cases, students who have been issued a negative BSA aren’t referred to a different programme and simply drop out of the picture.
This gives cause for concern, according to the Minister in a letter to the House of Parliament. She wants institutions to provide closer support to students who are behind schedule and help them choose a different programme after issuing a negative BSA. Van Engelshoven: “One of the main purposes of the BSA is to help ensure that students end up in the right programme for them.”
Still, in some cases, universities of applied sciences and universities prove unable to keep students on board – even when they are quite up to the demands of their chosen programme. According to the researchers, institutions occasionally have to stand by and watch how these students slowly careen toward a negative BSA – because they can’t find their footing or take on too many extracurricular activities.
According to the Minister, institutions give a lot of thought to how they can support students’ academic performance and which role the BSA can play in this context. “The policy surrounding the binding study advice will continue to be interpreted in a variety of ways,” according to Van Engelshoven. But right now, there’s “a bit too much” variety, in her view. She wants the universities and universities of applied sciences to put more effort into sharing their experiences with the BSA, in order to learn from one another.
In the past, the Minister has made no bones about her desire to relax the provisions of the BSA. In her view, a 60-credit norm does not give first-year students enough leeway to make mistakes. That’s why she believes the national norm should be lowered to 40 credits – as she suddenly announced during the opening of the current academic year. The House of Representative didn’t agree and the universities were downright indignant about the suggestion.
Van Engelshoven subsequently announced that she will be adhering to the norm in her annual Policy Monitor. The Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO) will also be keeping an eye on developments. The research results are expected to become available next year.
In her letter, the Minister also responded to previous questions and motions submitted by the House. Earlier this year, GroenLinks asked her to give students right of assent with regard to the BSA. According to Van Engelshoven, the student representatives are already authorised to issue recommendations regarding the Course and Examination Regulations (OER) – which includes the BSA rules. What’s more, it turns out this subject isn’t too high on the participation councils’ agenda. This also needs to change, says Van Engelshoven.
Another question submitted by GroenLinks is whether students with a functional impairment could be exempted from the BSA requirements. Hardly a good idea, according to the Minister. Institutions are already free to adopt a tailored norm for these students. She sees no reason to explicitly exempt specific groups.
The Minister’s answer to a question submitted by PVV, which asked her to allow the institutions themselves to determine the BSA minimum, was rather terse: “This study provides the universities of applied sciences and universities with handles to make further work of this issue within their organisation.”