Students want to get through their programmes quickly and efficiently, the Inspectorate of Education said today in The State of Education. And they are willing to spend money on that.

Such a system of shadow education could disrupt equal opportunity. Students from poorer families use tutoring services less often than students from richer families, the inspectors revealed. “Not all parents and students are able to pay for extra tutoring.”

There is more tutoring at academic universities than at universities of applied sciences. Among Master’s students, 21 percent has purchased supplementary teaching at some time, as opposed to 17 percent of upper-year students in higher professional education.

Teacher education, psychology

Students in larger programmes – such as nursing, teaching, psychology and law – are more likely to use such services. Moreover, old habits die hard: those who are tutored at a young age more often turn to extra tutoring in higher education.

And there are more of such differences. Those in shadow education are more often women than men. In addition, those with a non-western migration background make proportionally greater use of tutors than the rest of the population.

High-achievers, too, are willing to put their money on the line for extra guidance: they want the highest marks possible. Other students typically seek tutoring when they suffer from a lack of motivation or concentration.

Final project

So what kind of guidance do they get? Of those students who hire tutors, 71 percent want to pass a course, while 22 percent use such support for writing a final project, sometimes in addition to course tutoring. Another 18 percent needs help for stress or fear of failure.

Shadow education is becoming more common. All kinds of thesis coaches have registered with the Chamber of Commerce. In 2015 there were 63, but by 2019 that figure had doubled to 128.

This tutoring is different from getting help from friends or family, which 38 percent of academic Master’s students and upper-year university of applied sciences students have occasionally made use of. Around 12 percent also sometimes get help for free, or almost for free, from a student association.

No idea

Academic universities and universities of applied sciences often have no idea that their students are hiring extra teaching services: 72 percent of these students has never said anything about it to their lecturer – sometimes due to fear of being criticised.

This has to change, the Inspectorate asserts. If lecturers enter into a conversation with their students about shadow education, they will know how students are experiencing the teaching offered by the programme and what their needs are “better than relying on course evaluations”.

The State of Education was submitted this morning to outgoing Ministers Van Engelshoven and Slob. At the presentation, Director General of the Inspectorate of Education Alida Oppers warned of a decline in basic skills and a loss of equal opportunity for all.

On their own two feet

Oppers stated, for example, that 25 percent of 15-year-olds lack basic reading skills. This kind of thing may have certain repercussions when young people have to stand on their own two legs, she believes. For example, when signing a rental agreement or taking out a loan.

Because some parents (and even some young people) have a greater capacity for hiring tutors than others, equal opportunity will decline and inequality will rise. Tutoring, homework help, exam coaching and thesis guidance: “All these developments make it look as if education has become a free market. Complete with billboards and radio ads.”


Minister Van Engelshoven also believes the situation is less than ideal. She fully understands that parents want what’s best for their children. “But it should never depend on whether your parents are capable of paying for extra guidance and exam coaching.”

And the coronavirus crisis? In the Inspectorate’s opinion, it works like a contrast dye. Existing problems are made much more visible.