Minister Dijkgraaf wants to reduce the pressure for first-year students. As far as he is concerned, the standard for the binding study advice (BSA) will be lowered to a maximum of 30 credit points in the first year and another 30 in the second year.

The universities of applied sciences are fine with that, but the universities are adamantly opposed. On Tuesday, the rectors wrote an open letter to the minister in daily newspaper De Telegraaf, together with WOinActie, and four university student councils. Do not relax the standard, is their plea.

“According to his own Policy Measures Monitor, the vast majority (88%) of students experience the BSA as neutral or positive”, they write. “The minister’s plans will therefore not reduce stress, simply shift it.”

What does the Policy Measures Monitor say?

There are two graphs regarding the binding study advice. First-year students were asked whether they considered the programme’s BSA policy to be an advantage or a disadvantage to their choice of programme. The higher the standard, the more the BSA is seen as a disadvantage.

And once they’ve started their studies?

They were also asked – and this is what the rectors base their argumentation on – how the binding study advice has affected their study behaviour this academic year. At least 12% of first-year university students say it had a negative effect (and that percentage is slightly higher if the BSA is stricter). Around one in three speak of a positive effect. The rest are neutral, or the positive and negative effects balance each other out.

Is asking about the effect the BSA has on study behaviour the same as asking ‘how they experience it’?

No, not quite. You could also ask whether students are in favour of the binding study advice. That was not asked. Does the BSA mean they have less time to do anything besides their studies? That was not asked either.

So do they experience the BSA as ‘neutral or positive’?

That’s the point, we don’t know.

So why do these rectors write that?

Because they are against relaxing the binding study advice. One of the reasons is because relaxation could lead to weaker students moving on to the second year. The rectors: “More students means more work pressure for teachers. In a sector where the pressure of work is already very high, that is the last thing we should want.”

What is the advantage of the BSA for students?

That they know where they stand as soon as possible. If the programme is not the right one for them, that will be evident within a year, and they can switch to a different one. It is also an incentive for some students: university figures show that some get just enough points for the BSA and then only work half-heartedly. If you raise the standard, they work harder. Once they have fallen behind, they hardly ever catch up.

And the downside?

There are countless possible reasons reasons why students may have difficulty getting into their stride during the first year. They might have only just left home, they need to study more independently… They have a lot on their minds. “Too much pressure can be paralysing, which can lead to poorer learning performance, thus clouding the picture of whether or not a student is suitable for a programme”, says Dijkgraaf. This obviously does not apply to all students, but to some.

So are students for or against the BSA?

That depends on who you ask. Only four university student councils co-signed the rectors’ letter. The national student organisations ISO and LSVb have a very different opinion. They have welcomed Dijkgraaf’s plans for a lower BSA.

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