Erasmus University is thinking about adaptations to the ‘harde knip’ (‘hard cut’) for students planning to start on a master programme after the summer. This was announced on Monday morning by rector magnificus Rutger Engels, during a broadcast of Erasmus TV. While it is not yet clear which adaptations the university is considering, Engels did promise that the university will be offering alternatives and will be more flexible when it comes to admitting students who were unable to round off their bachelor degree due to the COVID-19 crisis to a master programme.
Imagine working on your bachelor thesis and not being able to reach your respondents or finish your field research. Or maybe the marking of your work has been delayed. Before you know it, you’ll need to tack on a few more months.
At which point you may just miss the start of your chosen master programme. The result: your studies are delayed by at least six months. Maybe even a year: the smaller master programmes often only work with one admission moment per year.
When the crisis erupted, universities quickly came up with a solution for first-year students who aren’t issued a positive binding study advice as a result. They can continue under a temporary forbearance scheme. A similar arrangement has been set up for students in vocational education and training (VET, or MBO) who want to continue their studies: if they had nearly rounded off their existing programme – but were stopped just before the finishing line by the outbreak – they will be allowed to already start on a bachelor programme at a university of applied sciences in September. They will be given until 1 January 2021 to obtain their MBO diploma.
The bachelor-before-master rule is intended to force students to think carefully about how they want to follow up their degree. They need to have completed every step of their bachelor programme before they are allowed to continue.
At present, students risk running into considerable delays – through no fault of their own: a situation that no one is particularly happy with. The question remains which agreements should be made exactly. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) has confirmed that the universities are also conferring about the ‘harde knip’. They will be presenting a proposal in the short term – provided they are able to agree on a joint position.
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But how soft will the cut be exactly? Will this batch of bachelor students also be required to round off their bachelor programme before 1 January – similar to MBO students moving on to the next phase? What if they still need to pass a subject that is only offered in March or April?
You could decide on a very lenient solution: decide for yourself when you want to get your bachelor degree, as long as you do it before rounding off your master programme. But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict this will create delays. A ‘big stick’ continues to be of use in situations like these.
Another factor that may play a role is the varying interests of the different universities. Some of them, particularly in the Randstad region, stand to gain from a hard cut. They attract a lot of students from other universities. Maybe their intake will drop if the soft cut makes a comeback, since more students will continue studying at their existing institution for practical reasons.
Another interesting question: would a possible forbearance scheme also apply to students who have almost rounded off a programme at a university of applied sciences? Are they also allowed to make a head start on their transfer programme or university master programme? Or will these students not be covered by this arrangement?
In the past, many students followed up their bachelor programme with a doorstroommaster at the same faculty. This decision was made more or less on autopilot: if they still needed to earn a few credits, this usually wasn’t a problem for the faculty, which allowed them to start on the master programme. Hardly optimal, according to the then Cabinet. After all, it encourages students to choose the path of least resistance, rather than search for the programme that best suits their needs and talents.