Free riders

| Niels ter Meer

Sometimes we have the habit of too easily dismissing people when they can’t, for whatever reasonable cause, jump through the hoops we ask them to. We could do with some more humanity, especially when it comes to the Binding Study Advice, thinks student columnist Niels ter Meer.


A while back, I was attending a tutor meeting for one of the bachelor projects. I heard a student was sick; quite sick even — out of the running for a week and a bit. However, the first question posed was not ‘are they okay’, nor ‘have they talked to the study advisor’, but instead ‘can they still participate in the project, or should they redo the project next year?’ While everyone nodded in agreement, I was just left stunned.

I tell this story because the discussion around the BSA is starting up again. Before I get inevitably yelled at, I’ll say this first: of course you have to do something to get your degree. You can’t just sit on your hands for weeks and expect to pass. But we also have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with humans; humans with their human flaws. They get sick, tired, stressed and depressed, or have other things happen in their life. It’s a reality not often acknowledged by those arguing in favour of the binding study advice. Often, they’ll pose it as a reasonable system under the veil of logic; logic built on shaky premises. Or flawed statistics. Or both.

Which is exactly what the student factions of the university council did. What a joke, but that’s what you get with small mandates and short polls — at least they’re on theme I guess. For one, those who followed the tutor training know that not being able to handle the level of the project, or having a different amount of commitment to a project, is not really freeriding. There are so many good, valid, and reasonable causes as to why one is forced to ‘free ride’. Moreover, as the education inspection recognised back in 2010, a BSA cannot stand without personal guidance. Oh woops there goes your argument. The argument the council makes is one of opportunity, one made from privilege, and one devoid of humanity.

The BSA as they pose, only works on an ideal world in a vacuum. A world with no outside influences on students, in which no one gets sick, overstressed or depressed — ever. The world in which they seem to live. A world in which a hard yes-no always suffices, and is always correct.

But the real world is far from ideal. In that world, where student mental health is already under pressure, I don’t think the BSA has a place. No good student should have to justify the weeks they were sick, depressed, or had something else happen, just because someone would love to get rid of ‘free riders’, just for some arbitrary and arguably bad and harmful threshold.

That same world is one in which ‘free riding’ — a product of the wide spectrum of human abilities and weaknesses — will always exist, regardless of how hard one tries to eradicate it. Instead of crushing it and pretending that ‘freeriding’ immediately implies inability, we should embrace it. By embracing it we recognise the free rider’s humanity, and thus also our own. Give those free riders some space to be flawed. We might be that ‘free rider’ some other day.

Stay tuned

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