In 2008 universities agreed that, from that moment on, all lecturers would be required to complete a didactic training course for which they would receive a Basic Teaching Qualification (bko). The following years showed a tremendous growth in the number of lecturers who obtained the certificate.
At the end of 2012, the bko emerged as a theme in the performance agreements that universities reached with the ministry. Each university determined its own objective, while promising that they would step up efforts to significantly increase the number of teachers with a bko by 2015. On average, universities aimed to achieve a share of 64 percent. Erasmus University increased the percentage of teachers with a bko in that period from 15 to 72 percent
However, the performance agreements are now a thing of the past and the need appears less pressing. The share of lecturers with a bko is now only growing in small increments; from 58 percent in 2015 to 62 percent in 2018, as shown by the latest figures published by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). The pressure appears to be off.
‘Bko remains priority’
A lot can still be gained among the group of lecturers with a temporary appointment, which is almost a quarter of the total number of lecturers. In 2018 only 26 percent had obtained a bko, compared to 77 percent of lecturers with a permanent appointment.
The VSNU does not see a connection to the performance agreements. “It makes sense that the growth shown in the first few years would level off at some point, but we can also see that growth picking up again in 2018”, says spokesperson Bart Pierik. “For universities, the bko will remain a top priority in the coming years as well.”
One example of ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ and an exception to the figures is Tilburg University. In 2016, former Rector Magnificus Emile Aarts decided that all of his lecturers needed to obtain a bko within one thousand days. At the time, only 36 percent had completed the didactic training course. Policy was implemented to grow the share of bko-certified lecturers. In 2018, Tilburg became the frontrunner with a share of 90 percent.
The number of bko certificates obtained also varies between teaching positions. Of all associate professors, 84 percent has obtained the certificate. Next in line are professors at 71 percent and lecturers at 65 percent. Of all employees with a teaching position ‘other’, 39 percent has completed the course.
The Dutch National Students’ Association is not satisfied with these figures. “To students, teachers are key figures during their studies”, says president Kees Gillesse. “Everyone who teaches must therefore obtain a bko. This also applies to temporary teachers, teaching assistants and PhD students.”
Gillesse believes that the reason why not all teachers have received the proper didactic training, is that not enough investments are being made in the professionalisation of teaching staff. “Of course we also realise that the workload in higher education is a contributing factor. A bko course means more work for lecturers, and they need the time and funds to obtain this certificate.”
VSNU spokesperson Pierik says this sounds familiar. “Quality of education is extremely important, but time constraints prove to be a real bottleneck. Lecturers know that taking a bko course will improve the quality of their education, but it also means they will have less time to teach.”
Pierik also says the growing number of students is both a blessing and a curse. “It’s great that more and more students find their way to Dutch universities, but ultimately, there’s always a limit to your capacity and quality.”
During a bko course, lecturers work on acquiring skills in the areas of educational development, teaching and testing and assessment of students. But it is up to universities to determine the contents of the course, resulting in widely varying bko programmes per university.
At Erasmus University, the course consists of an online module and three classes, and the total study load is estimated at 80 hours. At VU Amsterdam, lecturers take part in fourteen classes and the study load is estimated at 150 hours. Maastricht University’s bko programmes are organised per faculty so the courses are individually tailored to the teaching practice.
Lecturers’ teaching experience can play a role. At the University of Groningen, those with less than five years of experience are required to take part in an extensive programme with a study load of between 120 and 160 hours, whereas more experienced lecturers will be able to obtain their bko in 10 to 30 hours. Frontrunner Tilburg University offers experienced lecturers an intensive two-day bko programme.