If it is up to minister Dijkgraaf, the BSA will be revised in the near future. He deems that the system causes a lot of stress and performance pressure among students, who already suffer from mental health problems. He potentially aims for a 'milder' advice, for instance by spreading the BSA over two years or lowering the current standard.
Binding study advice
Just like other educational institutions in the Netherlands, the UT utilises the so-called binding study advice, better known by the abbreviation 'BSA'. All first-year students receive the recommendation at the end of their academic year. In most cases, one will receive a positive recommendation if they have obtained 45 or more of the 60 credits in the first year. A score below 45 points usually results in a negative binding study advice: the student are then obliged to stop with their current education.
Although the student section of the University Council endorses the minister's concerns regarding student welfare, in a letter they advocate to retain the current BSA for the time being. According to them, relaxing the norm would be at the expense of the educational quality. ‘In Twente we work a lot with project-based education due to TOM (Twents Onderwijsmodel, ed.),’ Uraad member and ATLAS student Milan Gomes explains. ‘Project groups are all about cooperation. This requires an equal level of knowledge and commitment from students.’
This form of education is prone to 'freeloaders': students who show less commitment within a group or cannot handle the difficulty level. The University Council fears that relaxing the BSA will lead to an even larger group of freeloaders. ‘There are already significant differences between students in project groups. We hear this from lecturers and I also recognize this from my personal experience. Relaxing the BSA could widen this gap even more.’
Gomes also points out the wasted effort and finances, both for the educational institution and the student themselves. ‘If the BSA is relaxed and spread over two years and a negative study advice still follows, then a student has invested two years instead of one. That still causes enormous stress.’
Not ideal, but necessary
According to Gomes, the University Council's position is partly based on a short poll among students and information obtained from their own study groups. ‘Of course, we cannot ask all UT students, but our poll shows that most students can easily follow the reasoning which we used to arrive at our position.’ In addition to retaining the BSA, the University Council argues in the letter for the possibility of setting the points standard per institution and programme. ‘A University College like ATLAS, for example, should be able to opt for a higher BSA of 50 or 60 points, while other programmes might opt for a lower point standard.’
The call to keep the BSA for now does not mean that the University Council is an avid supporter of the system, as Gomes stresses. ‘In the ideal world, there would be more room for personal guidance instead of a hard 'yes-no'. Teachers and advisers could then engage with students within clear frameworks about their study path and decide together on the way forward.’ But personal counselling currently demands too much from teaching staff, as Gomes acknowledges. ‘The workload is already high. That's why the BSA remains necessary for now. It is not a good solution, but the alternative has to be better.’
The University Council hopes for a discussion before the letter to Parliament is sent by minister Dijkgraaf. The minister's plans for the BSA are expected to be known by spring.