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Seven intensive contact hours is pressure point

Seven intensive contact hours is pressure point

Photographer:Fotograaf: Simone Golob

Quality agreements per faculty

Maastricht University will receive millions of euros - money becoming available from the abolishing of the basic grant system - to improve the quality of education. The first faculty plans are on the agenda of next week's University Council meeting. For approval. The plans include items such as small tutorial groups, a mentor programme (lecturer-student) and professionalisation of lecturers. Observant has prepared a preview.  

Many quality agreements have been discussed in the various faculties over the past six months. First in dedicated committees and subsequently in the faculty councils for advice. in four of the six faculties (SBE, FSE, FHML and Law) this was done behind closed doors. Now that all of the plans have been made public, they are on the University Council's agenda next week. The objectives include tutorial groups of up to 15 students (deadline 2022) and a minimum of seven intensive contact hours (such as tutorial group meetings, skills training, interactive lectures, workshops) a week (deadline 2024), both in year 1 and year 2. On top of that, there will be a mentor for all first-year students and further professionalisation of lecturers. For the latter, not only has a plan of approach for PBL and tutor training been developed across the UM, but there is also a permanent refresher course programme through Continuing Professional Development Framework (CPD).

There are a few things that all faculties emphasise: the quality agreements must not increase the workload of staff, and the study load for students must be balanced. It is also important that measures fit in with the problem-based learning system and that they do not disrupt the setup of the education programmes.

Law: not a one-size-fits-all solution

As far as the first year of the study programmes are concerned, the Faculty of Law has already reached its objective of a maximum of 15 students per tutorial group. The problem is largely in the second year. To establish the actual number of students present during group meetings – the faculty does not have compulsory attendance – they are going to introduce electronic registration next year. At the moment, 55 per cent of all tutorial groups exceed the limit of fifteen students, the board writes in its faculty plan.
Furthermore, the faculty will need to increase the number of intensive contact hours considerably. With the exception of a few blocks, this number is currently much too low. How to tackle this? It will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Interactive lectures have been suggested, as well as long-term projects in which groups work on real cases.
To limit the workload, thirteen FTEs will be added. Assistant professors and teachers will already be appointed next year, so that they can be involved in the restructuring of the bachelor's curriculum. The Law faculty will literally get more space in the building on the Kapoenstraat as FSE is expected to move to Tapijn in 2019.
Lastly, all first-year students will get a mentor (lecturer) in 2020. At the moment, there is only supervision for students with a ‘red’ score in the study programme matching scheme and for those who only score a 4 or 5 for their first exams.
To finance the plans, money will not only be used from the abolished student loan system but also from the regular budget.

Arts & Social Sciences: not a mentor but an academic advisor

A mentor programme, an academic writing coach, language courses for second-year students at Arts & Culture. A random selection from the investments that FASoS already made in 2017 to improve the quality of education. The mentor programme is now being expanded - among others, with five meetings between students and their mentor in first year and two in second year - and will eventually be more than the UM requires. The faculty council would like to replace the term ‘mentor’ by ‘academic advisor’ to emphasise that this concerns substantial, academic mentoring. This is what staff has been trained for, says the council, not for psychological counselling. 

As far as the size of the tutorial groups are concerned, 80 per cent already consists of a no more than 15 students. In 2022, all tutorial groups must meet this requirement, so extra staff will be appointed (a mixture of teaching assistants and assistant professors).  

From 2023, FASoS wants the four blocks in years 1 and 2 of the bachelor's programmes to include an average of seven intensive contact hours. That will be a tough nut to crack, because at the moment only a few blocks meet that requirement. One thing is clear, say the board and council: “We are going for quality, not quantity. We must look to see if something fits in with a block.” It must also be affordable. If FASoS carries out these plans, the funds from the student loan system will not cover all the costs and there will be a shortage.

Psychology and Neurosciences: most is already in place

The Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences already meets some of the requirements, thanks to previous investment made by the board. Tutorial groups never have more than thirteen students and all first-year students are given a mentor. They have five group sessions and 2 to 3 individual meetings with this mentor. The only change is that from the next academic year all students will get an invitation in January for an extra meeting, instead of only those who are heading towards a negative binding study advice.

FPN does not meet the criterion of seven contact hours required each week in all periods. There is still a discussion on how this could be done. These blocks are in fact already viewed as very intensive by students because of the difficult nature of the subject matter. It is possible that certain activities are taken from one block and transferred to another.

With regard to the Continuing Professional Development Framework, a co-ordinator will be appointed to draw up a programme together with a team and the UM-CPD workgroup.

FPN is getting ahead of matters and has already presented the faculty council with plans for the other themes. They want to extensively analyse testing and develop more extra-curricular activities in order to improve employability. 

Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences: more training for students and staff

The issue of group sizes has already been sorted at the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences. The required seven contact hours are mainly a problem at Health Sciences. The required figure is not reached in twelve blocks. The block co-ordinators are going to look for a solution, which must be introduced before 2024.

In the 2021-2022 academic year, the first-year students of European Public Health will get a mentor too, the other bachelor's students already have one. This will now apply to all study years and the master's phase. The faculty also aims to keep the waiting time to meet with a study advisor as short as possible and to offer more study skills training courses.

FHML is co-operating on the creation of the UM-wide CPD programme and also wants to improve the feedback skills of students and staff, as well as giving more tutor training. Moreover, full-time lecturers are allowed to spend 10 per cent of their time on professional development from January 2019. The range of faculty courses will be expanded for this purpose.

Some of the plans already implemented by FHML or that they are about to embark upon, come under the other themes of the quality agreements. A selection: students from universities of applied sciences doing a master's programme may take part in an extra course in statistics, students of Health Sciences without Biology in their secondary-school package no longer need to pay for a catch-up course, and some of the budget has also been freed up for activities of the Employability platform.

School of Business and Economics: communities of sixty students

‘Undesirable and counter-productive’ is the critical assessment by the School of Business and Economics' faculty council on the imposed number of seven intensive contact hours per week. If that standard were to be applied strictly, stress and study load will rise. SBE will then have to increase the number of intensive hours in all programmes; only block period 1 meets the requirement. This is because some education activities, such as computer lab sessions, are indeed “already experienced as being intensive,” the memo states, but are marked as lectures.

Block period 5 is a complete disaster, because of the many holidays. Adding contact hours in this period would need to be done carefully to prevent raising the students' study load even further. At the same time, the council sees operational trouble ahead, especially when it comes to timetables and the availability of classrooms.

To increase supervision, SBE is going create communities of no more than sixty students; eventually the number should come down to thirty. These students meet each other in the tutorial groups, but will also get to do ‘fun things’ outside the walls of the university. At the same time, students will be monitored more closely. Anyone who is absent more than twice in the first block period, will be invited for a talk. Not a non-committal but a compulsory one.

Faculty of Science and Engineering: well-being of students a problem in Venlo

The well-being of the students is a number one priority at University College Venlo. Too many students appear to be suffering from their study load, sometimes in combination with personal problems. That is why Venlo wants to invest 25 thousand euro in an additional study advisor/psychologist. The ideal candidate would work part-time in a health centre, because of the short lines with GPs and fellow psychologists.

The Maastricht Science Program would benefit more from an additional member of the academic staff and additional tutors from other faculties. These measures would be taken to maintain a group size of fewer than fifteen students and to increase the number of research projects for students.

The Department of Knowledge Engineering (DKE) thinks it would gain most from an education expert, whom they have already appointed, by the way. This person will help to reshape the education programme by innovating skills training and introducing portfolios.

University College Maastricht (UCM) is going to further improve its intensive student supervision, among others by appointing new staff (max. 0.8 FTE). Moreover, research will play an even bigger role in the curriculum (for every student). There are also plans for a Methods Centre and a Writing Centre.

Wendy Degens, Cleo Freriks, Riki Janssen, Maurice Timmermans

Quality agreements: who, what, where and why

The basic grant was abolished in 2015, the funds becoming available (approximately 550 million in six years; the so-called student loan system), must be invested by universities and universities of applied sciences in the improvement of their education systems. The Ministry of Education has imposed these ‘quality agreements’. Six themes have been agreed upon nationwide between the minister and, among others, the student unions. The University Council agreed with the Maastricht plans last June.

That is to say, it agreed to the main lines, because it was then down to the faculties to adapt the themes - small-scale intensive education, supervision of students, and ‘professionalisation’ of lecturers - to their respective situations. The deadline was the end of November. The other three themes - facilities, study success, and differentiation in education - will be dealt with at a later stage.

The total amount from the student loan system in Maastricht increases from 5.2 million in 2019 to 15.9 million in 2024. This money will be distributed 'centrally' across the faculties. All objectives included in the UM plan Quality Agreements 2019-2024 must be achieved by 2024. An interim evaluation has been scheduled for 2021.

National education watchdog NVAO will assess the plans and progress on behalf of the Minister of Education.

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