5 September 2018 • HOP, Bas Belleman
The Minister’s BSA plan rouses wide support and resistance
Fewer mandatory credits in the first year? Students may be happy with the plan that Minister Van Engelshoven presented today, but universities and universities of applied sciences feel ambushed. Even the House of Representatives is divided.
In the future, first year students only need to attain 40 of the 60 credits required to continue to the second year, announced Minister Van Engelshoven today. This should reduce the pressure on students.
A step forward
The Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO, national umbrella organisation for student councils) sees it as a big step forward. Many first year students are still getting used to higher education and student life, believes the ISO. The binding study advice then adds “enormous pressure on top of this”.
VSNU deplores it
But the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) deplores the announcement. “I myself got a BSA during my first degree programme and that was the best ‘no’ I ever heard,” says spokesperson Bart Pierik. “I then went and took another degree programme that was a better match for me. This proposal will mean that more students will get stuck in their study because they are in a degree programme that does not suit them.”
Always a time of transition
And what about the psychological pressure on students? “The first year is always a time of transition. The BSA has little influence here,” says Pierik. “The pressure on students is more related to part-time work, looking for accommodation and building up a social network. And the BSA works – the academic success rates have gone up. Universities have good reasons for this.”
The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences has not yet taken a position, but, just like the VSNU, was taken by surprise by the plan. “This is the first time in our relationship with the government that a ruling like this was announced without consultation,” says Thom de Graaf, Chair of The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences in a press release. He wants to meet with the Minister soon.
Politics’ response is divided. D66 Member of Parliament Paul van Meenen, party colleague of the Minister, is delighted. “It’s good that the Minister @ivanengelshoven sets boundaries in the otherwise completely random character of the requirements for #students in their binding study advice.” But coalition partner VVD sees absolutely no advantages in the plan, says Member of Parliament Judith Tielen. “The Minister has opted for mediocrity and will limit the options for students. Why should a student not be able to choose a degree programme that has a strict standard of 60 credits? One student may excel in a degree programme that sets the bar high, while another may excel in a less pressured environment. The Minister is totally ignoring this diversity.”
The psychological pressure that students experience “is a real problem and we have to do something about it”, says Tielen, “but this idea will not solve anything. Most BSA standards are only a bit higher, around 45 or 50 credits. It makes no sense to drop this standard slightly.” Even the governing CDA party is scratching its head. “I’m not really convinced yet,” responded CDA Member of Parliament Harry van der Molen on Twitter. “Most of the degree programmes are just above 40 credits. Or they award 15 credits every three months, which amounts to 45 credits. So the students won’t really experience less pressure. Plus, they need to earn the credits anyway so all it’s doing is pushing the pressure to later, right?
Just like the coalition, the opposition is divided too. SP and GroenLinks are completely happy. “I don’t always agree with the Minister, but if she wants to make the binding study advice more flexible, she can count on the SP,” tweeted Member of Parliament Frank Futselaar. His colleague from GroenLinks, Zihni Özdil, calls it a “good step by the Minister” and advocates abolishing the BSA altogether. But PVV’s Harm Beertema is outright against it. “The bar is being dropped yet again. It’s almost touching the ground. In a couple of years the subject of psychological pressure will be raised again, and it will be about 40 credits. And then the @MinOCW will sympathise again.”
Minister Van Engelshoven pushes her BSA plan forward. The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences thinks that she is moving somewhat too fast and it would have preferred to have been consulted.