While EUR feels the need to ‘adjust its role’ and ‘contribute to our society’, I speak from experience when I say that students are, in reality, not encouraged to do so. Leaving the ivory tower of intellectualism as an institution and being grounded within society seems nice, but does this vision hold up if you’re preventing students from doing internships?

I’ll name the thing that happened to me: academic bureaucracy. For context, we should look back to six months ago, when I had to idea to do an internship during my Master’s programme in Media & Journalism. I had the opportunity to do a three-month internship at the Trouw daily newspaper. I thought it was a great opportunity, and a great preparation for a career in journalism. Because that’s what I’m being educated for, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. My journalistic ambitions had to defer to the academic schedule. I was not allowed to do an internship, because I risked not being able to complete my thesis in time. Delaying by a month or even a day was not acceptable, because ‘officially an internship is not sufficient reason for a delay’.

This can be explained by the following law: universities are partly financed on the basis of the number of students that are enrolled ‘within the normal study duration’. If you take longer, you are not a nominal student, with all the consequences resulting from that.

Praktijk-theorie-bureaucratie-stage-internshio-kasteel-luchtkasteel-Femke Legué
Image credit: Femke Legué

This is an understandable arrangement to some degree, because universities stimulate students not to become ‘forever students’. What I don’t understand is why exceptions under that rule can only be made for sickness or ‘personal circumstances’, but not if you want to develop yourself outside the curriculum.

Some civil disobedience was needed to further my personal development. I did the three-month internship anyway, and learned more about journalism than I did in the rest of my degree programme. And the thesis? I finished that as well. Final result: a master’s degree and an internship done in a year. A fun byproduct is that I now work for Trouw.

By now, I hope you share my incomprehension. How can your journalism degree programme ban its students from doing an internship at a newspaper? How can a university become so fixated on theory that practice is ignored completely? Particularly when your degree programme indicates that only 2 per cent of your graduates end up working in academics? As Erasmus himself said: “It is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn.”

You may be wondering why I did not opt for a more practical degree programme. The short answer is that I believed I was, but was disappointed. The longer answer is that an 18-year-old boy finished pre-university education and opted for a university degree, and only chose a specification during his bachelor’s phase.

So, dear Erasmus University Rotterdam, why? Why are you forcing students to jump through academic hoops if they aren’t doing anything with it? This isn’t just naive, it’s downright arrogant. When needed, step past your academic ego and work with well-meaning students, because you won’t be grounded within society, you’ll just keep yourself locked away in an academic fortress.

Of course, I’m not saying the university should reform into a vocational institution. But I do believe that EUR is missing the boat in their unwillingness to combine theory and practice, and undermining its own identity. Because as nice as the theory of academic research is, it only exists at the behest of practice. Dear university, you are not a world unto yourself, you are a part of real world that is out there. Please act like it.

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