From cold-blooded management goals
The reason for the major educational changes was hardly prosaic. Each year TU/e was losing market share and that was leading to huge cutbacks. The dropout rate among first-years was considerable and students that made it through took an age to complete their studies. Society simply refused to accept this any longer. The minister set performance targets: intake had to increase by half and the success rate had to double. A bit of a cold-blooded management approach. The subsequent taskforces have come up with an inspirational storyline.
TU/e studies should be attractive for every student interested in science: for students who want to study their discipline in depth to students who have a specific societal or career target in mind. Demand-driven, inspiring programs where everyone is focused from the off or searches for that focus with inspirational lecturer coaches. A program that enables the focus to be adjusted in the light of experience and thus openings to be created to all kinds of Masters, including the Master that best suits the plans of the student. Feasible studies whereby the students are actively committed from the beginning of the academic year, where the student gets regular feedback about progress and what remains to be done to ensure successful completion. Active, motivated students who go for it.
Lecturers and auxiliary staff have turned this inspiration into real impact, as is evident from the results after the first semester. Our programs appeal to more and different types of student. 52% of the first-years can be categorized as intrinsic scientists, 35% more in the sense of humanities generalist and 12% with a very specific career objective. The new studies are generally highly valued. The first curriculum survey among students shows they feel that:
- the majority of the subjects is well structured,
- the subjects are well organized and are in the hands of good lecturers, supervisors and/or tutors,
- the subjects contain good study material,
- the tests are valued and help the study process along,
- the subjects are finished off with the proper examinations,
- the study load is well distributed,
- and, last but not least, they enjoy their subjects.
This all contributes to greater study success or, in management terms again, better profit. The nominal rate of students after one semester is nominally still 38% (in 2011 it was 29%). An average of 78% of students gain the credits they need. The dropout rate now, after the first semester is 12% but this appears likely to eventually be between 20 and 25% (in 2011 it was 18% at the end of the first year of study), so that is little different compared to the previous year. And that is good: for some students this is not the best place to study. We retain the right students and they earn more credits.
But it has taken its toll
Of course, there are reservations to this story. In some studies the real pitfalls of the subjects are yet to come. The basic subjects can and must be improved. There is a good deal about the Bachelor College that still has to prove itself. But if we can keep that inspiration going, we will succeed. Every now and then one or two people donít understand that or lose the inspiration. All these nice changes have demanded a lot from the lecturers and the auxiliary staff, and the pressure is still on. It will take a while before the higher student numbers result in more staff but there is no way back: to go back would be to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
While we can surely expect a discussion about the likelihood of an Eleven Cities Skate Race in early March, for the Bachelor College it seems like spring has already begun. In my last column, I blogged about the fact that one bird does not make a spring, but several birds give us hope. Now, as we are nearing the end of the first semester, we can certainly be more optimistic.
All through the newsletter, of which this blog is a part, there are signs of a new blossoming in the Bachelor College.
While some bickering is still going on about the intake figures as they have been presented by DUO, the overall picture will remain virtually unchanged, I think: the intake for all Dutch universities collectively in 2012 either did not increase or fell slightly; our colleagues in Delft and Twente are not (yet) growing as far as the intake of technology students is concerned, while TU/e is growing at a rate of 9.2%.
Success due mainly to good education
Elevated intake due to bountiful promises is all very well, but itís another thing to sustain the increase by delivering on those promises. It is only when you look at the evaluations of the first quartile (link to another article in newsletter) that you get a genuine sense of success. Almost without exception, the new students have great appreciation for our lecturers and think that almost all our education is delivered well. They also feel that the education is well structured and well organized.
Of course, our lecturers have long been good. Now they deserve considerable appreciation for having succeeded in delivering such polished education as early as the first round in the face of fierce time pressure and the many significant changes requested by the Bachelor College. In the last consultative meeting of education directors//study program managers, the rector and I took the opportunity to express this appreciation. I hope that these compliments voiced via my blog also reach the right ears.
The Bachelor College was also required to provide a study program that was more feasible from the studentsí perspective and, in turn, to raise the percentages of students graduating on schedule. Despite the disappointing results of the first final examination in the Calculus basic subject, it appears that students are further along than was the case in the same period last year.
While we cannot say so with certainty, this does seem to be the fruit of the efforts made by our lecturers to organize interim examinations and give feedback. However, we must make sure that the amount of time lecturers invest in the education is kept to a realistic level. In view of this, in 2013 the BC will use the remaining 3TU funds to invest heavily in supporting lecturers in a range of ways, including by providing more ICT resources so that active education can be delivered efficiently and students can receive regular feedback.
Success also relies on loyal support
That no accidents occurred before the Bachelor College saw the spring is due largely, of course, to the support given to the education in the broadest sense. By everyone from the staff in the education offices, in the STU and the CEC up to and including the education directors//study program managers. Without their loyalty, the machine would have seized up on countless occasions. But more about that another time!