28 June 2019 • Martijn Tamboer
Flexible studies at THUAS
The rapidly changing labour market demands flexible part-time education. Education that is better aligned with the needs of the professional field. The Hague University of Applied Sciences has been participating in the Flexibilisation pilot project of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science since September 2017.
The advisory report Flexible Higher Education for Adults, published in 2014, revealed that the participation of adults in higher education required a strong incentive. “Together with the professional field, we innovated four existing part-time degree programmes to provide more flexibility for working students,” according to Son Burgers-Geerinckx, director of the faculty of Health, Nutrition & Sport at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.
There is a huge demand in the region of Zuid-Holland to supply qualified people for the labour market. The rapid developments in the labour market also require different forms of education. Simultaneously, changes in the labour market also result in the need to retrain staff members, provide additional training or additional competencies. To reinforce the innovation capacity and competitive strength of the Dutch economy, staff members are expected to commit to lifelong learning and development.
Flexible part-time education is not centred around the programme but focuses on the trajectory of the student to acquire the key required learning outcomes. Accountability for study load and study credits is no longer the main focus. Burgers-Geerinckx: “The pilot gives us room to deviate from some of the components under the The Dutch Higher Education and Research Act (Dutch: Wet op het Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschappelijk onderzoek (WHW). That’s a positive development as working students are often already quite competent in certain areas. An experienced manager doesn’t have to start from zero when it comes to learning about leadership competencies.
The main goal is to achieve the learning outcomes in a way that suits the student. How the learning outcomes are acquired and tested isn’t predetermined; this gives the programme great flexibility and makes it suitable for the target group of working adults. Validating existing competencies is a key factor here.
Innovative ways of learning
Flexible part-time degree programmes offer innovative forms of education, such as learning on the job and providing blended education with a choice of online courses or onsite classes. The students determine which learning outcome they want to achieve and select from the available programme the type of education required to achieve their objectives. There is no mandatory reading list and there are no traditional exams. Students prove their competency by completing practice-based assignments.
Four part-time degree programmes
Twenty universities of applied sciences are participating in the Ministry’s national pilot project. The Hague University of Applied Sciences currently offers four flexible part-time degree programmes: HBO-nursing, Nutrition and Dietetics, Social Work and Pabo (Primary School Teacher Training). Starting next year, THUAS will gradually expand its existing selection of part-time degree programmes. “We have to ensure that we remain within the statute’s frameworks.” The additional part-time degree programmes, beyond the current four, will not be part of the pilot. “However, we expect that when the pilot concludes in 2021, the outcome will provide important input for amending the law to allow greater flexibility for all part-time degree programmes and offer a programme that meets the learning needs of students today and tomorrow. And that is much needed, as everyone will require ongoing learning in the future.”
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