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Walloon students in a fix

MAASTRICHT. The number of Walloon students at Maastricht University has grown explosively over the past years. This has given rise to additional problems because the Walloons cannot produce their secondary school diplomas on time. The UM now settles for a provisional declaration.

In the Netherlands, first-year students must provide the university where they have enrolled with a valid secondary school diploma before 1 September. This is stated in the so-called enrolment decision, (inschrijfbesluit) - a section of the Higher Education and Research Act (Wet op het Hoger Onderwijs en het Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, WHW).

Walloon students often can't manage this because they only receive their diplomas much later and so can only provide a provisional declaration. They sometimes only receive the official document a whole year later, says Pascal Breuls, director of the Student Services Centre.

“When it concerns a small number of students, arrangements can be made here and there. Over the years, however, this group has grown and the internal accountant started to query the matter. After all, newcomers must meet the legal requirements.”

Some of them ended up in a fix because their enrolments, if they did not meet all requirements, were put on hold. Students then don't have access to the digital learning environment and are not allowed to take exams. University Council member Dirk Tempelaar, also a lecturer at the School of Business and Economics (SBE), recently brought up the matter in the University Council meeting. According to Tempelaar, the on-hold status creates a lot of confusion because lecturers don't know which students this concerns.

Another problem is that some of these students don't report in. Not even after repeated insistence from the Student Services Centre and the Education Office. “They get four reminders and we try to reach them by telephone,” says Joël Castermans, head of the Education Office at SBE. “But even then, they sometimes remain quiet. This is not a recent problem, by the way. In the past, we used to visit tutorials to trace the students, but that disrupted the education process and unnecessarily stigmatised the students.”

In the meantime, the UM has come to an arrangement with the Walloon first-year students. In consultation with the UM accountant, it has been decided to settle for a provisional declaration. When the students receive their official diplomas, they must submit them as soon as possible.

More Walloons than ever before have enrolled at the UM, at least according to the October count. The counter is at 326. “Walloon students are very interested in international education,” says Zoé den Boer, senior adviser for student recruitment. “In their region, the majority of courses are in French. As the figures from 2017 showed, they often choose International Business, European Law School, and European Studies.”

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