Lecturers recognise this phenomenon at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE). “We are seeing that some components of the pre-university exam syllabus, such as geometry, have been scrapped. In addition, the number of hours of maths in pre-university education has been reduced several times. As a result, incoming students are less well trained than in the past”, notes lecturer Christiaan Heij of the Econometrics programme. He has been teaching Statistics to first-year students since 1989.

Nothing new

But this is not something that has changed in the past few years, Heij emphasises. In 2007, the degree programme already changed the structure of its maths education due to the lower entry level. “We couldn’t get started with our first maths course because it was simply too difficult for the students. So we set up a special course for this purpose, namely Basic Mathematics. This course covers subjects that were previously taught at school.”

Image credit: own photo

Riley Badenbroek is one of the maths lecturers on the Economy programme. He can see a big difference in level between the students. “Some people sail through my course, while others have a lot of trouble with it”, he says.

As a lecturer, he tries to serve both groups as effectively as possible. “The scope for doing so is limited in the lecture hall, because you’re lecturing to several hundred people. So I mainly discuss the assignments there. I try to work on a step-by-step basis and leave room for questions so that everyone can keep up.”

The students study the theory in advance in short videos. “The advantage of this is that students can rewind the explanation and learn the subject matter at their own pace”, he says. “But this way of working is not new – my predecessor was already doing it this way 10 years ago.”

Advisory policy

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You cannot blame students for not having the right level, says lecturer Emö Oldenkamp. She teaches maths to first-year Econometrics students. “The fact that pre-university pupils are being presented with less maths is determined by politicians”, she says. “However, we do need to let students know in good time that their level of knowledge is not sufficient and that they will have to work very hard if they still want to do the programme.”

Pre-university students must have Mathematics B as part of their diploma if they want to take the Econometrics programme. When they register, the programme asks for their maths grade. “If they have a seven or lower, they receive a negative recommendation”, says Heij. “Roughly speaking, incoming students score two points lower here than they did in high school. So, if you got an eight in high school for Mathematics B, that puts you at a six here. We see that 70 percent of the students who got a seven in school don’t pass the subjects in the first year.”

Suport for students

Bad mathematics level high school – niveau wiskunde is gedaald2_Migle Alonderyte
Image credit: Migle Alonderyte

To support new students, the programme offers an online maths course that you can take before the start of your degree programme. The course programme takes the level of each student into account by means of an entry test.

In the Econometrics programme, lecturers provide students with as much guidance as possible in the first block, says Oldenkamp. The Introduction to Analysis course, for example, went from four to six credits a few years ago, with many more contact moments as a result. “For this course, we have six hours of lectures, two hours of tutorials and two extra hours of question time per week. That way, students can ask any questions they may have and get extra explanations”, she says.

Online platform

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According to Heij, incoming students who only took Mathematics B lag behind international students and Dutch students who also took Mathematics D. Oldenkamp and Heij are currently developing an online platform to accommodate the differences in level among Econometrics students. “Next year, we will offer video modules. A few topics will no longer be discussed in the lectures at that point. Students will need to do self-study instead: watch the video and do exercises online. In this way, we hope to be able to offer a little extra support to students who need it.”

The lecturers are also doing this in order to maintain the required final level. “There is a lower limit to the level of maths you can start from. Without it, you will never reach the end point. Students are being trained as econometricians, so they must have reached a certain level by the end of the programme”, says Heij.


The three lecturers are quite optimistic. “Most students are willing to work hard. Their somewhat lower entry level is not an insoluble problem, but as a lecturer, you need to be able to properly assess and guide them. I think that’s going pretty well”, says Heij. “We are indeed including more hours, and the degree programme also recognises that this is necessary.”

Oldenkamp confirms this. “People who take their studies seriously will succeed.” Badenbroek: “We don’t adapt our level to the level of the intake. I set the bar somewhere and try to get as many students as possible over that bar. Ultimately, the goal is not to give everyone a pass mark but to ensure that everyone achieves good mastery of the subject matter.”

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