In order to improve student well-being, Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf is keen to take the pressure off and limit the binding study advice (BSA). If first-year students achieve at least half of their credits, it will soon no longer be possible to expel them from their degree programme.
Students must have earned at least sixty credits after two years of studying, the minister wrote in a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives. This will give them more time to get used to studying.
According to the ministry, the current standard is an average of 45 credits. The intervention (an average drop of 15 points) is intended to reduce the performance pressure. A legislative amendment is required for this and will take time: the plans are intended to take effect from September 2025.
“Too much pressure has a paralysing effect and can lead to poorer learning performance, thus clouding the perception of whether a student is suitable for a degree programme,” says Dijkgraaf in a press release.
First-year students already have enough on their plate, he thinks. “Students have to deal with all kinds of things in the first year, such as living in student accommodation, getting used to studying and student life and standing on their own two feet.” He therefore concludes that degree programmes should not set the bar too high.
It is a bad plan, says Pieter Duisenberg, President of the university association UNL. During an online press conference, he presented figures and graphs that were intended to demonstrate that the current binding study advice works well.
The BSA allows students to know where they stand more quickly, the universities say. In fact, weaker students would even benefit from a high standard. This is because they study towards the norm: if the bar is higher, they will jump higher and continue to benefit from this later in their education.
A lower BSA standard will increase the workload among lecturers, predicts Casper Albers, professor of statistics at the University of Groningen. He is involved in WOinActie, a national movement that defends the interests of university education and the link with scientific research, and also attended the online press conference. Albers argues that a lower standard means that weaker students will stay in the degree programme for longer and they require more attention. If the minister wants to press forward with this plan, Albers feels that he should make more money available.
In addition, it would not be good for senior students to attend tutorials with students who still have to catch up on subjects from the first year. The BSA plans could come at the expense of the quality of education, the universities think.
The universities of applied sciences reacted more calmly. “Higher professional education has a wide variety of institutions and programmes, all with their own identity and vision for their vocational training,” says Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences President Maurice Limmen. “Although the minister is now attaching a maximum level to the BSA, institutions can continue to make their own choices within the scope offered by the minister.”
In recent years, several universities of applied sciences have relaxed or even completely abolished the BSA; others are planning to do so soon. It therefore seems a trend to keep students on board for longer, although some universities of applied sciences would prefer to keep the old system in place.
Well-being and study progress
However, the Dutch Student Union LSVb is happy with the plans. President Joram van Velzen regards it as a good move by the minister: “At the moment, the binding study advice is often used as a means to kick students out of college or university as soon as possible if they don’t yield enough results.” The organisation would prefer to remove the binding study advice altogether.
The Dutch National Student Association (ISO) also calls the plans a relief. “As far as we are concerned, the words binding and advice don’t go together at all,” says board member Sam de Fockert. “This relaxation of the rules will lead to a better balance being achieved between the well-being of students and their study progress.”
Dijkgraaf’s predecessor and party colleague Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) also wanted to limit the BSA. In September 2018, she announced that the standard should be reduced to 40 credits in the first year. However, she was forced to back down and later said that she mainly wanted to ‘put the cat among the pigeons’.
The House of Representatives has yet to discuss the new plans. This could prove stressful, as the two largest government parties VVD and D66 have opposing ideas about the BSA. The VVD is fine with a strict standard, while D66 is sceptical.
Minister wants discussion about binding study advice
Is the Minister for Education going to relax the binding study advice for first-year…
The universities are proposing two alternatives. Their ideal would be to allow the degree programmes themselves to determine which standard suits them, in consultation with the representative bodies. If this is not politically feasible, the bar should at least be set higher, for example at a maximum of 45 credits.
The bill is intended to be completed in the spring of 2024 and the new rules for the binding study advice would take effect from the 2025-2026 academic year onwards.