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Led by the hand or trip and fall

Led by the hand or trip and fall

Photographer:Fotograaf: Pixabay

Great differences in attendance requirements in bachelor’s programmes

A single educational institution with six faculties, all of which pride themselves in the same education system. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is Maastricht University's showpiece. In tutorial groups, twelve to fifteen students discuss a case from actual practice in order to get to grips with the subject matter. For a successful debate with different perspectives, the presence of students is crucial. But should you make attendance compulsory in the bachelor phase? Some faculties feel that you should, others don’t.

Extra days off
The Medicine and Health Sciences programmes of the faculty of Health, Medicine & Life Sciences (FHML) have the strictest rules. Students must attend all tutorials. “We also expect active participation, otherwise the tutor is not allowed to sign off on attendance,” says Guy Plasqui, chairman of the Board of Examiners of the Health Sciences bachelor's programmes. “It is really strict and school-like, but PBL won't work if students don't show up. In the former rules and regulations, the attendance standard was 75 per cent. In a block of eight weeks, the last two tutorials group meetings were often (almost) empty. Students often see it as extra days off instead of a safety net for when there is a good reason not to come.”

Enthusiasm and involvement
At the same faculty, Biomedical Sciences (BMS) has a very different view on this matter. “With 100% attendance everyone may be present, but if nobody speaks, it doesn't work,” says Sylvia Heeneman, chairman of the Board of Examiners for the BMS bachelor's programme. There is a 75 per cent attendance rule. To encourage active participation, they introduced the multisource feedback system (MSF) two years ago, worth four credits in the first year. “Students receive feedback from various people (tutors and fellow students) about their attendance, participation, professionalism, et cetera,” Heeneman explains.
The Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASoS) has abandoned compulsory attendance; students are expected to always be present, but there is no formal obligation. “This leads to enthusiastic and involved students in the tutorial group meetings,” says Jessica Mesman, Associate Dean for education at FASoS. “Attendance is your own responsibility here, but if students don't show up, the mentor, tutor or study advisor will have a talk with them. If there are motivational or personal problems, we want to know about them; maybe we can help them with something.”

Intrinsic motivation
“Studying at a university means that you learn to deal with independence,” is Sjoerd Claessens’ opinion. He is programme director at the Faculty of Law, where there is no compulsory attendance either. “I believe it is important that students develop an intrinsic motivation to be present and actively contribute. If they feel that they can do without it, it is good that they trip and fall and end up with a Fail.”
Intrinsic motivation is also very important in the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences (FPN). “This comes automatically when students start to see the value of the group processes and their responsibility within that,” says Linsey Raymaekers, chairperson of the Board of Examiners for the bachelor's programmes of FPN. To be able to do this, students must of course first experience a few subjects in the PBL system.” To be on the safe side, the faculty therefore has compulsory attendance: depending on the total number of meetings in a block, students are allowed to miss two, one or no meetings. “If tutors really follow the rules and do so with enthusiasm, students will see the added value and attend the meetings. A good PBL session should even be possible without a tutor after a while.” In addition, there is a lot more to PBL than just independence. “We prepare students for the labour market; employers don't only want you to arrive (on time), but also that you are able to work within a group. Students learn to do this during the tutorial meetings.”

Higher grades
In various faculties, excessive absence results in receiving no credits or not being allowed to do the exam. At the faculty of Law, students may “skip all tutorial group sessions and still take the exam,” says Claessens. “You may wonder why these students have chosen a university with PBL, but if they still pass, I won't complain. Practice shows that students who do not attend, often don't pass.” This link was investigated at FASoS by researchers Patrick Bijsmans and Arjan Schakel. Their conclusion – positively formulated – is crystal clear: students who attend the tutorial group sessions regularly, are more inclined to pass the Binding Study Advice (BSA), with more credits and higher grades.

Simple and attractive
So many programmes, so many attendance regulations. Would a university-wide policy not be better? The answer is “no”. Raymaekers: “I like things to be simple, so a UM-wide policy sounds attractive, but the autonomy of the faculties is important. There are different situations everywhere.” Claessens: “The type of student and the format, the nature and the content of the programme simply differ too much. I am a great advocate of individual policies per faculty.”

The rules per faculty:

  • FASoS: No compulsory attendance, but presence is registered. Tutors or mentors talk approach students who are hardly ever present.
  • FPN: Depending on the total number of meetings in a block, students may miss two, one or no sessions, provided they report their absence personally and in time. For practicals and skills trainings, 100 per cent attendance applies.
  • LAW: No compulsory attendance; attendance can be compulsory for practicals.
  • SBE: Block co-ordinators may decide for themselves. 75 per cent is the most common; attendance is compulsory for skills training or presentations.
  • FSE:
    • Data Science and Knowledge Engineering: 70 per cent in first year for lectures and tutorial group sessions. In second and third year, presence is only required for projects and skills training.
    • The Colleges & the Maastricht Science Program: At least 85 per cent attendance for tutorials. Between 70 and 85 per cent attendance, students are eligible for an additional assignment.  
  • FHML:
    • Biomedical Sciences: 75 per cent, with a multisource feedback system to encourage active participation. The faculty looks in particular at the development of individual student over a longer period. Students must always attend practicals.
    • Health Sciences: 100 per cent for tutorial group sessions; between 75 and 100 per cent there is the possibility to do an additional assignment.
    • Medicine: 100 per cent for the tutorial group sessions. Students are assessed by the tutor on professional behaviour via a portfolio system. This includes participation and attendance. The portfolio is linked to credits. 
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