The idea for a ‘smarter academic year’ was conceived by The Young Academy, the society of relatively young top scientists affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. A comparison with the situation abroad shows that the academic year in the Netherlands is a whopping nine weeks longer than in some other European countries, which is thought to result in a high workload at universities in particular.
How the study programmes will go about shortening the academic year is not yet clear. According to Dijkgraaf, options include removing unnecessary overlap between programme components and decreasing the number of interim exams and resits.
Interestingly, online education also appears to be a positive factor in shortening the academic year. That is to say, the Minister thinks that institutions could devise their timetables more efficiently and teach more classes online.
The Minister has invited all research universities and two universities of applied sciences to take part in the pilots. Reportedly, several institutions have shown interest. They can enter a maximum of three programmes into the pilots, which will run from 2023 until 2026.
A press release from the Ministry states: “The University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam will be in charge of knowledge-sharing, monitoring and accountability. Two years into the pilot the initial results and possible adjustment needs will be evaluated.”
10 million euros
The Minister has set aside ten million euros for the pilots, stating ”They should not take away from the quality of teaching, students’ learning achievements and the learning outcomes of the programmes involved.” In addition, the idea is not to schedule the same amount of teaching in fewer weeks, as this would not lead to an actual reduction in the number of contact hours.
Student association ISO is reluctant to make any definitive statements. “It’s a good thing if this actually leads to more breathing space”, says chair Terri van der Velden. “We should jump at any opportunity to accomplish that. We do have some questions though. We don’t see, for instance, how limiting the number of resits will reduce stress.”
ISO is also sceptical of the new timetables, fearing that study programmes will simply cram all of the classes into fewer weeks. This would not make things ‘smarter’ at all. Or perhaps students will simply receive less education, which would likely have a negative impact on quality. “Getting rid of some overlap will not free up nine weeks”, Van der Velden says.
The Young Academy’s proposal was met with a mixed response last year. Similar to the student organisations, the ComeniusNetwerk society of excellent lecturers remained hesitant. The General Union of Education, on the other hand, did react enthusiastically.