For years, Medicine has been the sole exception to EUR’s bsa rule. In contrast with other programmes at Erasmus University, medical students are ‘only’ required to obtain 40 credits. Although for the current academic year, the bar has been lowered across the board due to the extraordinary circumstances of this lengthy pandemic. Depending on their degree programme, first-year students need to earn between 51 and 54 credits. Which is only right, according to Schmidt. “If circumstances don’t permit education with all the regular features, a temporary relaxation is in order.”

Position 1: If small-scale, activating education and personal support are the standard, the university wouldn’t have to work with a strict bsa

“Yes… the answer is yes. N=N was never intended to merely raise output – to generate more diplomas, as it were. The bsa keeps students focussed. It’s intended to help students decide within a one-year term whether their chosen programme suits them and to motivate them to put effort into their studies.”

“Looking at the discussions regarding the need for a bsa, you’d almost forget: before this requirement was introduced, university students on average took more than five years to round off a three-year bachelor programme. To put it in perspective: that’s equivalent to students in pre-university education needing ten years to get their VWO diploma. The latter would be unacceptable to most people. What’s more: with N=N, you’re presenting first-year students with a requirement that they’re already familiar with from secondary school. Studying for years on end is expensive – both for the student and the university. Think of all the examinations that need to be made and checked afterwards. When I was dean (of the Social Sciences faculty, Eds.), the bsa stood at 40 credits. I soon noticed that this measure didn’t have much effect. A lot of students had no trouble obtaining 40 credits in the course of one year. The one effect it did have is that they couldn’t keep endlessly procrastinating, because they had to have those 60 credits by the end of year two.”

“Research 1 into the effects of N=N shows that the number of students who satisfy all the requirements by the end of the first year has risen by nearly 25%. Moreover, the percentage of students who obtain their bachelor degree within three years has increased by 10%. Apparently, the bsa gives students a better idea of how much time and attention they will need to devote to their programme. One point of criticism raised by outgoing Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven is that weaker students in particular are hampered by a strict bsa. Our research actually shows the opposite: these students are the ones who benefit most from N=N. Clear structure and setting the bar higher result in better academic achievements.”

“A number of programmes haven’t linked the N=N norm to small-scale education. Apparently it isn’t financially feasible in some cases. Programmes that do combine the two have reported an improvement in results.”

Position 2: Looking into students’ mental health issues leaves you critical of our performance culture

“I don’t know if I agree. Yes, it’s true we ask a lot from our students – but is it too much? Research shows that students spend an average of three hours a day on their studies. While this varies from programme to programme, effectively this means a lot of students are only studying part-time. I have my doubts about Van Engelshoven’s stress hypothesis (the Education Minister claimed that N=N was the case of too much stress bron?). The requirements help students to develop their self-efficacy and time management skills. You actually see the opposite happening: when students have made it through the first year, they think: Jeez, I can do this! That has a motivating effect.”

Position 3: N=N means that students have little time during their first year for personal and social development

“Based on the collected data, I feel inclined to refute that assertion. In the Psychology programme, we researched how much extra time students have been devoting to their studies following the introduction of N=N. It turned out to be two hours more per week than before. Giving them ample time for other activities, in other words. Research shows that the students spend 4.5 to 5 hours per day on their social contacts.”

“This means I definitely don’t see N=N as a threat to students’ mental health. Although I do believe that students deal with more choice overload in their daily lives. For example, I used to enjoy going to Cinerama, which screened better quality films. But nowadays you have all these streaming platforms to choose between. Fear of missing out is also a source of stress. And thanks to social media and WhatsApp you’re constantly connected with your social environment. This also requires your attention, because what if you miss a message?”

Position 4: It’s a crying shame that other universities haven’t, or haven’t yet, introduced N=N

Schmidt laughs out loud when he hears this statement. “I can wholeheartedly recommend N=N to everyone. At the time, my fellow rectors didn’t seem very interested. A lot of them were still struggling with the introduction of the 40-credit rule.” And with another laugh: “You could say they have some catching up to do.”

Position 5: Politicians shouldn’t interfere with the norm adopted for the bsa

“If I made that statement, it would come from the bottom of my heart. Politicians often react to hearsay, and subsequently base their policies on this input. But in fact, they’re insufficiently informed to do this. Unfortunately, the student unions also don’t have enough insight into what we’ve accomplished here. And it’s precisely these unions that have a lot of influence. They’re calling for a reversal, and the Minister follows their lead. People who object to N=N don’t know the extent to which students – and specifically the weaker ones – actually benefit from this approach. Before we introduced N=N, it met with a lot of resistance in the University Council. Fortunately, the student members on that Council were open to evidence-based arguments. Perhaps this is also the case with the current generation of administrators.”

Winterse dag op de campus_Amber Leijen_vrije opdracht (18)

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  1. Schmidt, H. G., Baars, G. J., Hermus, P., van der Molen, H. T., Arnold, I. J., & Smeets, G. (2021). Changes in examination practices reduce procrastination in university students. European Journal of Higher Education, 1-16.

    Baars, G. J., Schmidt, H. G., Hermus, P., van der Molen, H. T., Arnold, I. J., & Smeets, G. (2021). Which Students Benefit Most From an Intervention Promoting Study Success? submitted. ↩︎