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Check: Are students genuinely enthusiastic about binding study advice?

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau,
17 mei 2023 - 14:42

Don’t lower the bar for first-year students, rectors of Dutch universities write in De Telegraaf. One of the arguments: the vast majority of students perceive the binding study advice as neutral or positive. But is that true?

Minister Dijkgraaf wants to reduce the pressure on first-year students. As far as he is concerned, the standard for the binding study advice (BSA) will decrease to a maximum 30 points in the first year and another 30 points in the second year.

Colleges are fine with this, but universities are vehemently opposed. On Tuesday the rectors wrote an open letter to the minister in the newspaper De Telegraaf, together with action group WOinAction and four university student councils. Don’t lower the standard, is their plea.

“According to his own Monitor Policies, the vast majority (88%) of students perceive the BSA to be neutral or positive,” they write. “Thus, the minister’s plans will not reduce stress, just shift it.”

One in three students feel that the bsa has had a positive impact on their study behaviour

What does the Policy Measures Monitor say?
It has two graphs about binding study advice. First-year students were asked whether the program’s BSA policy was a plus or minus in their choice of study. The higher the standard, the more the BSA is seen as a disadvantage.

And once they study?
Students were also asked - and this is what the rectors are basing their answers on - how the binding study advice influenced their study behavior this academic year. At least 12 percent of first-year WO (scientific/academic education) students say it had a negative influence, and that percentage is slightly higher when the BSA is stricter. About one in three reports a positive influence. The rest are neutral, or the positive and negative influences balance each other out.

Is asking about the influence of the BSA on study behavior the same as asking “how they experience it”?
No, not quite. You could also ask if students are in favor of the binding study advice. They didn’t. Does the BSA mean they have less time to do something besides their studies? That was not asked, either.

Do they experience the BSA as “neutral or positive”?
We don’t know.

So why did the rectors write that?
Because they are against diminishing the binding study advice. One of the reasons is that diminishing it could lead to weaker students moving on to the second year. The rectors say: “More students means a greater workload for teachers. In a sector where the workload is already very high, that is the last thing we want.”

What is the advantage of the BSA for students?
That they know in time where they stand. If they are not suited for the program, it shows within a year and they can look for alternatives. It is also a big motivator for some students. University figures show that some get just enough points for the BSA and then slack off. If you raise the standard, they work harder. Once they fall behind, they hardly ever catch up.

Once you fall behind in your studies, you almost never catch up completely

And the downside?
There can be all sorts of reasons why students have trouble getting started in the first year. They may be living on their own for the first time, they need to study more independently, or they have a lot on their minds. “Too much pressure has a paralyzing effect, can lead to poorer learning performance, and thus clouds the picture of whether or not a student is suitable for course of study,” says Dijkgraaf. This does not apply to all students, of course, but to some.

Are students now for or against the BSA?
It depends who you ask. Only four university student councils co-signed the rectors’ letter. The national student organizations ISO and LSVb think very differently. They welcome Dijkgraaf’s plans for a lower BSA.

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