10 July 2019 • HOP, by Inge Schouten
There is no such thing as ‘one’ BSA
Research universities and universities of applied sciences are free to decide for themselves how they apply the binding study advice. But Minister Van Engelshoven thinks that the mutual differences are currently very great.
The binding study advice is meant to enable a quick assessment of whether students are suitable for a degree programme or whether they have possibly made the wrong study choice. But the question is whether it works. Minister Van Engelshoven commissioned a study to see how the BSA works in practice. It appearsthat institutions’ policies differ greatly.
And it starts with the level of the BSA norm. Of the institutions examined (six universities of applied sciences and five research universities) that level varied from 36 to 60 points. The norm is somewhat higher at universities of applied sciences than at research universities.
That norm is not the only factor. Researchers also looked into the different conditions and criteria that are decisive to obtain the BSA norm. These could be compensation regulations, resit opportunities and compulsory subjects. From the study it appears that each institution interprets these their own way. There are only three universities of applied sciences where students can compensate a fail with a pass grade, and not one research university sets compulsory subjects for the BSA.
Student guidance also varies greatly per institution. While most universities of applied sciences organise coaching meetings on their own initiative, research universities only do so if a student explicitly asks for it. Furthermore, after a negative BSA students are rarely referred to a different course and they disappear from view.
That is alarming, Minister Van Engelshoven wrote to the cabinet. She wants institutions to provide better support for students with a study delay and that they help students who receive a negative BSA to find another degree programme. ‘An important function of the BSA is to ensure the right student is at the right place’, stated the minister.
However, it still isn’t always possible to keep those students on board who can cope with the level of the degree programme. Universities of applied sciences and research universities are sad to see that this group receives a negative BSA due to problems with acclimation or because of too many extracurricular activities, state the researchers.
The minister believes that institutions do consider how they can increase study success and the role of the BSA in that. ‘There will continue to be various interpretations of the policy surrounding the binding study advice’, according to Van Engelshoven. But, in her opinion, the mutual differences are currently ‘very large indeed’. She wants research universities and universities of applied sciences to share their experiences with the BSA more so they can learn from each other.
The minister herself has never made a secret of the fact that she wants to make the BSA more flexible. She thinks that a 60-point norm for first-years students leaves little room for error. And the national average should be reduced to 40 points she unexpectedlyannounced at the opening of this academic year. The cabinet was not in favour of that and the institutions responded with indignation.
She announced that she would continue to follow the level of the existing norm in her annual Monitor of Policy Measures. The National Taskforce for Applied Research is also keeping an eye on the situation. The research results are expected next year.
In her letter, the minister responded to previous questions and motions by the Dutch Lower House. Earlier this year, GroenLinks asked her to give students the right to endorse decisions about the BSA. The participation council can already advise on the examination rules and regulations (EER) which include rules for the BSA, was her answer. Moreover, this topic is not high up on the council’s agenda. It’s time that changes, believes Van Engelshoven.
Another questionposed by GroenLinks was if students with a functional disability could be exempt from the BSA. The minister does not think that is a good idea. Institutions can opt for an adapted norm for them as it stands. She is not keen on explicitly excluding groups.
Her response to the PVV, who askedher to leave the level of the BSA norm to the institutions themselves, was brief: ‘This research gives universities of applied sciences and research universities the tools to continue tackling this topic.’
Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science