Photographer:Fotograaf: Janneke Swinkels
MAASTRICHT. Students who collectively come to seek redress, parents who protest and call the dean, threatening e-mails and a lot of unpleasant rumblings on Facebook. It all happened to professor Jaap Bos in the past two years. To be more precise, after he adapted his exam for the first-year subject of Finance and 400 students failed.
Finance has the reputation of being a stumbling block. Bos: “They find it difficult and many are under tremendous pressure to pass the subject. It is the last one of the year, the last chance to ward off a negative binding study advice.” The “avalanche of complaints” is part and parcel of the climate in which students are regarded as customers, says Bos. Students have the right to complain, says head of the SE Examination Board, Erik de Regt. But he realises that there is not much that keeps them from doing so. Group complaints such as the one at Finance, occur five to ten times a year. Bos has raised the threshold: anyone who does not agree with something, must submit a handwritten complaint to the secretary of Finance on the first floor.
Elsewhere at Maastricht University, things are much more relaxed. The faculties report that it is not an issue, although the number of complaints at Psychology has increased, especially from foreign students, says chairman of the Examination Board, Hanneke van Mier. “They are hoping for a higher mark in order to make a better chance at being admitted to a master's or PhD.”
Complaining is normal, it seems. Observant asked 25 random UM students (at the city centre and Randwijck locations) whether they have ever complained to a lecturer about their test, and the answer was a unanimous Yes. And several had done so more than once. Usually in the hope of getting a higher mark, but sometimes also to save the next generation from making the same mistakes.
In many cases, lecturers don't have a problem with it, as appeared from the rounds we made past the faculties: “Students use the opportunities that they have. I wouldn't like to classify that as a problem or a burden.” Arjan Blokland, block co-ordinator at FPN, has no problem with complaints either, but it must be done in a decent way: “Social media are terrible. Students go completely berserk there. It makes me sick, before you know it, you've been condemned. I am totally insensitive to that, just like the individual e-mails. If you have a complaint, you come to the inspection session of the exam with good arguments.” Continuing: “I don't want people to fail, even though that seems to be the opinion. If someone gets 5.5, I go over all the questions again just to check. But if it is a 5.5, then that is what it will be. I am not just going to give someone a 6 just like that. I stand for the quality of the study programme.”
Complaints Service Point: for all your official complaints and objections
Disagree with a test grade or the binding study advice? Angry because of a rejection for the decentralised selection process? Or hurt by undesirable behaviour by a lecturer? On a national level, the number of official complaints, appeals and objections filed by students may have risen (as appeared from a survey by the Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau (Higher Education Press Agency) last November, there was a considerable drop in Maastricht, from 274 in 2015 to 190 in 2016.
Anyone within Maastricht University who feels that they have not been treated correctly, may approach the Complaints Service Point (CSP), which comes under the Student Services Centre. The CSP immediately passes on a complaint (issues such as undesirable behaviour, or the quality of education and facilities) to the UM's complaints committee; an appeal (student disagrees, for example, with a grade, the quality of a test, or the binding study advice) goes to the Board of Appeal for Examinations, and an objection (about decisions on such things as admission, registration, or the level of tuition fees) to the arbitration advice committee, which advises by the Executive Board. In addition - but that is of a different order - there are ‘ordinary’ (non-official) complaints during the inspection sessions of exams or at the Education Office.
According to student dean Roja Takhtetchian, the decrease in the number of official cases has everything to do with the rapid response to dissatisfaction among current or prospective students. If the text on the UM website on admission requirements appears to be unclear, for example, “then we will take action immediately”. If there is a lot of mumbling about the outcome of the decentralised selection process for Medicine, a solution will be sought: “School-leavers are able to arrange a special decentralised selection meeting, in which they are told personally why they have not been selected. This way, we nip things in the bud before they become complaints.”
Often an amicable settlement is reached and then there is no case. Takhtetchian: “Information and explanation by a lecturer and/or the Examination Board can solve many problems.” If it does become an issue, about 80 per cent is declared unfounded.
Read an interview with Prof. Jaap Bos about dealing with threatening e-mails and aggressive students after an exam here and students on complaining here