Minister Dijkgraaf asks universities of research and universities of applied sciences to start pilots with a ‘smarter’ academic year. During this pilot, the amount of weeks in the academic year will be reduced by improving educational organisation. The Dutch National Student Association (ISO) backs all of the goals of the pilots but sees risks.
Last week Minister Dijkgraaf asked universities of research and universities of applied sciences to start experimenting with pilots where the goal is to work towards a ‘smarter’ academic year. In these pilots, which are set to start in 2023, the amount of weeks in the academic year will be decreased to create a better educational organisation. Accordingly, the overlap between courses will be cancelled, the amount of midterms will be reduced and class schedules will be arranged better. Aside from this universities aim towards better online contact to reduce the amount of retakes.
The goal of the pilots is to create more peace and space for students as well as researchers and teachers. With less weeks spent studying, there will be more room for internships, extracurricular activities, summer school and studying abroad. Terri van der Velden, chair of the ISO, states that the ISO has the ambition to improve the well-being of students as well, but does see risks attached to the pilots. ‘Distributing the same amount of coursework over less weeks is not our aim.’ In addition to this, the organisation is fearful that less material will be taught and less retake possibilities will actually heighten the pressure for students.
Two months longer
The Dutch academic year has nine more weeks than comparable universities in the European Union. ‘If it turns out that those nine extra weeks only exist because of bad schedules and overlap between courses then we can only cheer on the reduced academic year’, Van der Velden states. During the shortened year there will be more room for internships and research. ‘Studying abroad will get easier as well when the academic year matches up with those of other countries.’ The ISO however does hope that the pilots don’t mean that material will get neglected. ‘Your diploma should still be worth the same.’
Taking away the pressure
Minister Dijkgraaf has had conversations with students, researchers and teachers. These conversations shone light on the fact that all three groups feel pressure and need some breathing room. He shaped the pilots with these conversations in mind. Van der Velden lets us know that the ISO does want to establish better well-being but does not see how a shorter academic year will contribute to that. ‘If the same amount of coursework is taught in fewer weeks, the pressure will actually go up.’ Aside from this, conversations are being held about reducing retake possibilities. ‘We see difficulties with this as well’, says Van der Velden. ‘Having less retake possibilities would add more pressure.’
Universities can decide for themselves
Establishments can participate in the pilots with a maximum of three studies or organisational units. They will then decide what is necessary to shorten the academic year. ‘It seems as if there aren’t a lot of rules put in place for the establishments that are participating’, Van der Velden tells us. ‘Because of this, pitfalls such as trying to fit the same amount of lectures in less weeks, or teaching less material, will become amplified.’ On top of this, she sees an organisational problem. ‘You don’t really know what is being tried out, so you don’t know what works and what doesn’t.’
Despite the many possible risks of the pilots Van der Velden tells us that the ISO is happy to see that the length of the academic year is getting so much attention. ‘Something like this feels quite resolute. We appreciate that the system is being observed fundamentally.’
This article was published in Dutch on the 13th of October 2022.