Education

Is flexible studying the future?

Shopping for points

Last year the universities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Tilburg, and Zwolle ran a flexible studying experiment. The minister was happy, the experiment has been extended, and the RUG could sign up for the coming academic year. Is that a good idea? ‘The question is whether the advantages outweigh the administrative burden.’
By Jelmer Buit / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Tuition fees are a financial worry for every student. Especially those who want to combine their studies with extracurricular activities can feel burdened by it. That is why some people in Groningen are saying we need the option of flexible studying.

Flexible studying involves students paying tuition fees only for the classes they’re actually taking, at a rate of 39.48 euros per ECTS. Students can also select courses from different programmes. The RUG has the option of joining the flexible studying experiment from 1 January to 1 March 2019. The first Groningen students could start their flexible studies in September 2019.

According to Nard Willemse, student party De Vrije Student representative in the university council, there is a need for flexible studying. ‘Society as a whole is becoming more flexible. It’s a way to accommodate for people’s increasingly busy lives so they have more time to discover other things.’

Simon Tol, a student of Finance, Tax and Advice at Windesheim in Zwolle participated in the experiment there. For him, flexible studying was a godsend.

Extra time

‘My board work was extended by an extra month’, says Tol, ‘but I also needed to start my internship. I couldn’t combine the two and I had to push back my internship by six months. I chose flexible studying so I’d only have to pay for the second semester.’

Tol thinks the concept of designing your own programme is great. ‘I chose it because I had board work to do, but I also know students who need the extra time for work or to care for a family member.’

‘Full-time board work really cuts into your studies.’

All you have to do is draw up a progress plan, Tol explains. You do this before the start of the academic year. ‘You explain which courses you want to take and when. It’s like a contract with the university.

Board

His fellow board members studied at places that weren’t involved in the flexible studying experiment. But they would have made use of it if they could, Tol says. ‘Full-time board work really cuts into your studies.’

An intermediate evaluation of the experiment at the University of Amsterdam showed this as well. Eighteen percent of students indicated they wanted to quit because they were so busy with their board work.

Over the past few years, he’s seen his fair share of board members who thought they could take classes on the side. ‘But they were almost always proven wrong. Exams often fall by the wayside when something important comes up. Studying just isn’t their priority.’

Limiting

Without realising it, most board members decide which courses to temporarily skip, Tol says. ‘This now costs them more than two thousand euros. Flexible studying would be much less costly. And the courses themselves don’t actually change, just the order in which they take them.’

But there are also disadvantages, says Tol. ‘I found it difficult to decide at the start of the year which courses I wanted to take and which ones I didn’t. I had decided on two courses next to my internship, but I realised in January that the internship was a lot more work than I thought, but by then it was too late to cancel those courses.’

‘On the other hand’, says Tol, ‘I can also imagine that there are students who have time left over, and they can register for new courses, either.’ In that sense, flexible styding can be limiting, he says.

Deficit

Flexible studying doesn’t just enable students to have more free time for other activities; it’s also meant to make studying more financially attractive. Each ECTS costs exactly the same: one sixtieth of the total tuition fees, with a surcharge of fifteen percent. In 2017, one ECTS cost 38.45 euros.

Nursing students have to practise on an orange before they start stitching up people

This also affects the revenue of research universities and universities of applied sciences, they are suffering from a deficit of an estimated one million euros.

The structure of study programmes doesn’t always allow students to take only some courses while leaving others. ‘I know people who want to do flexible studying, but their programme offers courses in an order that doesn’t allow for that. I heard a lot about student taking third-year course and getting into trouble because they didn’t take the second-year course and they’re lacking knowledge.’

Orange

Tanja Derksen, project coordinator of educational innovation at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, confirms this. ‘Students need to think long and hard before they do it’, she says. ‘Nursing students have to practise on an orange before they start stitching up people, don’t they?’

In Groningen, De Vrije Student is increasingly interested in the idea, but the rest of the university participation isn’t all that enthusiastic about it. Faction chair Younes Moustaghfir with Lijst Calimero: ‘It’s a solution for students who are also top athletes, or doing board work, but the question is whether this outweighs the administrative burden and the uncertainty of what some students will do.’

All you can eat

Gijs Verhoeff, faction chair with Studentenorganisatie Groningen, also has his doubts. He thinks flexible studying could become a problem when there are students who want more ETCS. ‘They’d have to pay more. We’d love to support the plans, as long as students don’t actually have to pay more than the statutory tuition fees. And I don’t think that’s the case right now.’

Nicolai Petkov, chair of the science faction of the university council, warns that flexible studying could actually be limiting. ‘Especially when students have to decide on all their courses at the beginning of the year. The current system allows students unlimited access to all courses. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet.’

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