Among the series of e-mails sent by the Executive Board, there are some that illustrate rather painfully how little the university has been able to do for its students in the past year. An update announcing that the university would relax its requirements regarding the number of credits to be obtained by first-year students by 10 to 15 per cent (there was no explanation in the e-mail as to how they arrived at those figures) came with another message, which was that students were still performing well, despite all the remote teaching. “The results of the exams administered between September and December show that, generally speaking, you are performing well – as well as in previous years.” This is a rather worrisome sign that what matters most to EUR is not student well-being, but rather high exam pass rates. Or perhaps it is a sign that EUR considers these two things to be synonymous, which is worrying in its own right.
In an e-mail sent in mid-January, the Executive Board reminded us ‘that we will all have to be flexible’. However, when it came down to it, it was mostly students who were expected to be flexible, while the university hardly came up with any initiatives designed to make studying easier for students. In its communications, EUR seemed to assume that students would go on obtaining credits as usual, as in any other year. The support initiatives established by the university seemed to be established out of a sense of duty rather than out of a genuine wish to help your average student. The student well-being platform Are You OK Out There? seeks to support students who are experiencing mental health problems. It is not up to me to state whether or not this method is effective, but what I can say is that it ignores and fails to serve a large group of students. Those students who are not suffering mental health issues, who have so far got through the coronavirus pandemic without suffering depression but do experience severe motivation issues when it comes to their studies, are hardly being offered any help.
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The e-mails sent since last January are in much the same vein. The Executive Board says it is sorry that the government is unable to relax the restrictions, meaning that students will not be able to return to campus just yet. In so doing, the university passes the buck to the government, which – ‘unfortunately, dear student’ – is preventing the university from improving the situation, which is a bit of a cop-out. Despite the coronavirus restrictions that are in place, EUR could definitely do more for its students than offer online coffee corners where people can chat with confidential advisers. Most students don’t need such arrangements at all but would benefit from the university being a little more lenient with regard to failed exams and students falling behind in their studies. It should be clear by now that remaining focused on one’s studies is a lot harder for students who spend their days cooped up in 12-square-metre rooms.
Dutch universities were not exactly models of leniency before the pandemic, but now that EUR is calling for ‘all of us to be flexible’, it is all the more disappointing that the university itself does not appear to be all that flexible. The fact that tuition fees will be halved next year will grant students the opportunity to take a little longer to get their degrees, but EUR is yet to mention this fact in its coronavirus updates, which is problematic. Students are being given an opportunity to stay at university a little longer, but EUR refuses to openly discuss this option, because it is vital to the university that students get their degrees in the published time for the programmes, without any delays. This focus on graduation and time-to-degree rates isn’t pretty at the best of times, but right now, during this pandemic, it is really showing us what EUR is all about. It appears to be about money rather than student well-being.
EUR’s attitude appears to be that those students who are capable of graduating this year must be out of here by the end of summer; they don’t care if a few students feel bad in the process. The university appears to have given up on allowing the current generation of students to have a good time and be highly motivated students at the start of the second wave. As long as graduation rates don’t suffer, things weren’t too bad, is what they are telling us.
Tijmen van der Born is a MA student of Media & Journalism at ESHCC.