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Good matching and a mentor

First-year dropout action plan

MAASTRICHT. Adequate information beforehand and more supervision during the course. These are the measures that faculties plan to implement in order to reduce the number of first-year dropouts or keep dropout numbers low. At the request of the Executive Board, every faculty investigated why students drop out and what they could do to prevent this.

It was one of the performance agreements that Maastricht University made with the minister: no more than 15 per cent dropouts among first-year students. This was achieved across the university; a higher percentage in a broad programme such as Law (30 per cent) is then compensated by fewer dropouts at, for example, UCM (10 per cent) and Medicine (3 per cent). But the Executive Board wants to go further, says rector Rianne Letschert. “We don’t know what the new performance indicators will be – if at all – but dropout rates will certainly play a part.” The reduced dropout rate is largely due to the university, but Letschert also sees that students choose more consciously. “There is less room for making the wrong choice. I do worry about that. Do you really have to know exactly what you want to study when you are eighteen?”

A certain percentage of dropouts, according to Letschert, is unavoidable. “That 15 per cent will probably stay.” The faculties also make this point. Health Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and European Public Health (all under the 15 per cent), for example, have to deal with students who have not been selected for Medicine. Fiscal Economics has the same problem; here International Business was the students’ first choice. The Faculty of Law also sees that its first year has a selective function, because they don’t make a selection at the start.

Arts and Social Sciences notices during the exit interviews that dropouts discover what they really want to do because of the broad selection that the programme offers. What is remarkable, by the way, is the fact that 85 per cent of the Arts and Social Sciences and European Studies students who quit, do so because of a negative Binding Study Advice. The rest of the dropouts are students who quit before 1 February in order to prevent this. Less than 1 per cent stops after a positive BSA.

At Psychology (19.5 per cent) personal problems often play a role, because some students choose this study due to their own experiences with mental health care. Psychology also chooses to give two stumbling blocks – Methods and Technique of Research and Statistics – in the first two periods. “These courses are experienced as difficult, but are highly relevant for a study in psychology (…) FPN wants to make students aware of the statistical parts of their study right from the start; this prevents students from dropping out later on during their Bachelor’s study.” Here we also see many students who drop out to prevent a negative Binding Study Advice, 48 per cent of the students indicated during their exit interview that they planned to re-enrol the year after.

Data Science and Knowledge Engineering states that 15 per cent is not attainable for science studies. This is often caused by technical or statistical stumbling blocks; in the case of DKE, these are Mathematics and Programming. DKE hopes to achieve 20-25 per cent. In comparison with other science programmes, DKE scores well; last year 27.8 per cent, whereas 44 per cent dropped out of the Artificial Intelligence programme in Nijmegen. The School of Business and Economics sees the same effect for Econometrics, where the dropout rate is higher (35 per cent) than for International Business and Economics and Business Economics (16 and 18 per cent).

Matching

The measures to reduce dropout rates can be divided into two components: better information beforehand and more intensive supervision during the course. Matching and the study choice check play an important role in the process of providing information. Future students complete a questionnaire to assess their motivation, personal skills, and knowledge of the study programme. On the basis of their answers, they will or will not be invited for an interview.

It works: 85 per cent of the students who started at FHML say that this made them make a more conscious choice. DKE saw in the past year that of the ten students who had a small chance of passing, nine did indeed drop out. The same applies to FASoS, where 70 per cent of the dropouts had been deemed a problem, but for the other 30 per cent, nothing had been detected during the matching procedure. The faculty is going to analyse this further.

SBE has introduced the additional requirement of ‘international classroom’ for its programmes with intake restrictions. Besides students being ranked on the basis of their grades and knowledge, the faculty will also asses how well they fit in the Maastricht education system. For this, they will look at their motivation, CV and background. The faculty does indicate that it will exercise restraint in turning away people on this basis.

Mentor

Practically all study programmes have set up a mentor programme or are in the process of doing so. The programmes that have had a mentor programme for some time, are unanimously positive. It usually consists of six sessions throughout the year: three collective ones (with the mentor group) and three individual ones. If a student feels the need, further sessions can be applied for or they can be passed on to the student adviser.

SBE is going for more bonding. The students will be divided into communities of sixty people, who regularly get together with a mentor and student tutors. The tutorial groups are composed from this group throughout the year, so that students meet students they already know more often.

In addition, extra supervision is given where necessary. Students, who do not pass subjects, receive an invitation for a talk with the student adviser, and there is additional training for study skills available for everyone. At UCM, non-EU students – for whom the transition is often greater and the pressure, because of the higher tuition fees, is higher – have a talk with the student counsellor at the beginning of the year. DKE, in co-operation with study association Incognito, wants to introduce more learning instances, organised by senior students who can use extra exercises and video lessons from the lecturers.

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