MAASTRICHT. Are study drugs used on a large scale at Maastricht University? Surveys held among students over the past few years pointed in that direction: one in four - at the School of Business and Economics nearly one in three – likes to take the odd pill, especially during exam periods. Ritalin, for example, ADHD medication with proven effects on one’s memory.
The SBE faculty council passed on its concerns to the University Council, who in turn asked the Executive Board for clarification. This was the reason why, some weeks ago, two professors attended the University Council strategy committee: social psychologist Gerjo Kok and psychopharmacologist Jan Ramaekers. Their diagnosis was that it is not so bad at all. There has been no proper research into the situation in Dutch higher education, but there is a Belgian study that was held among a number of universities and schools of higher education of which the results are comparable to the Netherlands, Kok said. Five per cent of the students have at least once used drugs during an exam period, “and there is no reason to think that it happens more often here”. The percentage of regular users is no higher than 2 per cent.
But do these drugs work, the University Council wanted to know. Yes, was the answer, in the sense that they prolong concentration. That is why drivers and fighter jet pilots use them. “But learning drugs or smart drugs are incorrect terms,” said Ramaekers, “because they don't make you smarter”.
By the way, Ritalin can easily be ordered online; the problem is that you never know what you are getting. The drug can have negative effects, but they are not great, they said. One of them is having trouble sleeping. So by taking Ritalin in the evening, you are not doing yourself a favour, because less sleep at night has a negative effect on study results.
A question from the council committee was whether dealers are operating at the UM and whether this should be allowed. Kok reports that sale of prescription drugs is illegal. According to President Martin Paul, students are occasionally banned from university buildings for this reason. “But those who ask on the Maastricht Facebook page ‘sharing is caring’: where do I find Ritalin? is referred to the university library,” says a council member. Martin Paul: “Maybe we need to be stricter.”
Lastly, does the use of drugs during exams classify as fraud, like doping in sports? Ramaekers: “Then we would also have to ban coffee and energy drinks. And we would have to do a blood test to prove it. That is a lot to ask for something that doesn't make you smarter.”