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Vice dean Lex Kaper: “We aim for small-scale education and more student interaction”

Published on 10-01-2023 16:35
This month, you can expect the National Student Survey (NSE) in your mailbox again. Every year, almost all students in Dutch higher education are invited to give their opinion on their study programme and university. Students Heleen Mulder (Physics & Astronomy) and Nedim Bjelic (Information Science) spoke to vice-dean Lex Kaper about the quality of education at the Faculty of Science.
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Hybrid education

The results of the 2022 NSE showed that, despite the fact that the situation around COVID played a major role again this year, student satisfaction remained almost the same as last year. 71% of Dutch students said they were (very) satisfied with their education.

Nedim: “We want to discuss the effects of COVID and the hybrid education that followed. Does any aspect of this hybrid education remain in the future?”

Lex: “The situation around COVID has forced us to frame our teaching in a whole new way. Take the concept of the lecture, for example. To what extent does it have to done in that way? For example, you could also use videos that students can watch in their own time, which can be used as preparation for a lecture.”

Heleen: “How do you then deal with the lack of the social aspect in hybrid education?”

Lex: “There are two sides to this. On the one hand, I think it is important that students are introduced to the academic/professor as a role model during a lecture. Furthermore, I think students learn a lot from each other, and that works best with physical education. Students are encouraged to work together, to talk about (scientific) problem together. On the other hand, in online education, the lecturer has more individual attention for students. They see all students with their respective names in the online environment and can therefore address them more personally. In addition, separate, smaller groups can be created online. But there is no doubt that interaction between students is very important. We want to strengthen this interaction through smaller working groups and student labs, which we are now setting up. As the University of Amsterdam, we strive for small-scale education and have already largely set that up at the Faculty of Science. We already have a policy that we try to have working groups of 25 students.”

Studyability

Despite students scoring well on studyability in the 2022 NSE, many students still experience study pressure. Nedim: “Are there any plans to ease study pressure and thus improve studyability?”

Lex: “If you look at it over a longer period, there have been really positive changes. When I started lecturing, about 25 years ago, there was little context. Now your subject is part of a certain curriculum, there are skills associated with it and it is more clear what is eventually tested. Studyability has thus improved by setting up the programme in a more professional way as compared to before. Of course, our graduation rates are still lower than they should be. I think the 'requirement' is that 80% of Bachelor's students should be graduated after 4 years. We are, off the top of my head, around 70%. That is not necessarily very bad. On the other hand there is of course a number of dropouts at the start. That is why we have matching, in which we already check during the preparatory phase whether the student is suitable for the study programme. And the students can find that out for themselves.”

A growing student population

Students were also very positive about lecturers in the 2022 NSE, despite the workload that seems to be increasing. Last summer, minister Robbert Dijkgraaf allocated 300 million euros to higher education, partly to reduce the workload among lecturers. Heleen: “Does the Faculty of Science already have plans to spend that money?”

Lex: “This ultimately goes through the allocation of funds among universities. Of course, the workload has been high,especially during the pandemic. At our faculty, you have two groups of lecturers. On the one hand, there are lecturers who work at scientific research institutes and are both lecturers and researchers. On the other hand, there are lecturers who are only involved in teaching.  During the COVID period, it was possible for many lecturer-researchers to cut back on research and free up extra time for hybrid teaching. Lecturers devoting all their hours to teaching did not have that margin. To reduce their workload, additional staff were appointed at that time. In addition, we have already experienced a huge growth in student numbers from 2015. That increase was never really fully compensated with manpower in teaching. Because of COVID, we have suffered an extra blow. But you can also put it in more positive terms: it is very admirable how our people have coped with all of that over the past 2.5 years.”

Read more about the National Student Survey 2023External link