Dressed in a warm green winter jumper, Rector Magnificus Rutger Engels is addressing EUR students via social media. The reason behind this is the Student Wellbeing Week, which will be held at the university next week. Engels speaks to his audience – as he says – not only as students, but also as individuals. “That’s a part of our wellbeing programme ‘Are you okay out there?‘”
Rotterdam was long known as the university where those sixty credits were sacred. The popular catchphrase in Rotterdam was Nominal is Normal (N=N) and when Minister Van Engelshoven seemed to want to meddle with this as early as 2018, loud boos rang out across Woudestein.
How different everything sounded this week from inside the board’s administrative building. When a majority in the House of Representatives supported a motion by Groenlinks (the Green Left party) to open the discussion on abolishing the BSA, this was followed by an extremely diplomatic statement from the Executive Board. “Student success and student welfare are topics that are high on the EUR’s agenda,” says the university board, bearing in mind the warm social media post from Rutger Engels.
Students are expressing their opinions in a survey on the Erasmus Magazine’s instagram page. Those who are against BSA, see it as an unnecessary mental burden. They also say that they would like to have more time for a (side)job because they are worried about a high student debt. These are some cons according to students:
“It only adds to the current burnout culture.”
“Feeling like a failure in your studies can take an immens toll on your mental health, especially when you are only 18 or 19 years old.”
“International students need more time to adjust, the extra pressure is quite a lot for their mental health.”
The university still states that ‘attaining all credit points is part of a whole package of measures intended to promote the quality of education, academic progress and the wellbeing of students through proactive education, and to guide them in the best possible way towards completing a study that suits them.’ Nevertheless, this is by no means an outright rejection of a loosening of the rules. Quite the contrary: “We would like to discuss with Minister van Engelshoven options for continuing to safeguard students’ success in the future and prevent any unnecessary delays in their studies.”
This is a major U-turn compared to two years ago, when the university hit the brakes hard when the minister wanted to lower the credits standard. Most likely, as you can hear resounding through the heart of the university, this is due to the corona effect. After all, students are already struggling enough as it is, what with all the home-based education and online examinations. Moreover, a more lenient credits standard has been in force since March because of the coronavirus. What consequences this has had on quality will be known next week.
According to the proponents, a strict BSA helps you to see whether the study suits you and whether you can handle the study. They admit that it is indeed tough, but spending many years not passing subjects and earning credits is stressful as well. These are some responses from students who are in favor of the 60-credit BSA:
“It was very stressful indeed. However, I forgot all about the stress when I started the second year with a clean slate.”
“If you don’t succeed first year, perhaps university isn’t for you. Education is expensive.”
“It sets the standard for an academic mindset because it is achievable.”
“As tough as these times are, they also train resilience and a way of working which will not go away. We must provide the uttermost support to those young students in any form possible but let’s not ‘water down’ the standards EUR has been building over the years. Give those kids a hand, don’t lower the bar.”
Quid pro quo
However, the new leniency has not filtered through everywhere. As vice-dean at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), Ivo Arnold is responsible for devising, implementing and evaluating educational reforms, as well as examining efficiency and efficacy in the field of economics education. Two years ago, he opposed the plan to water down the binding study advice and as yet has not changed his mind.
Ivo Arnold: “I am disappointed and concerned about this parliamentary motion. People who studied back in the 1970s and 1980s remember what it was like to have people wandering around university for years on end who never actually finished their studies. Getting rid of the BSA is in no one’s interest, neither for universities nor for students, whose study debts will simply increase. A university degree is a heavily subsidised form of education and you should be able to expect a fair amount of commitment from students who form a privileged group within society.”
Arnold finds it only logical that in the time of the corona crisis, a certain degree of flexibility should be exercised given that education cannot be provided in the customary way. “Our data show that study performance levels from March to October were comparable to those of previous years. However, we can see that resits are less frequently taken because there was no need for them. This may be due to the fact that some students don’t have to earn all of their credits now, but those exams will just come back in the second year.”
Even the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) is critical of the parliamentary motion. VSNU let ScienceGuide know that the question still remains whether students should be celebrating this as a victory. “Be aware of what you are happy about,” VSNU spokesperson Bart Pierik warns. “This may well put students under even more pressure and that, as a student, you end up sticking with a study where you won’t be successful. I wonder which students would be happy about that.”