MAASTRICHT. The quality agreements, which were on the University Council's agenda yesterday afternoon after Observant had gone to press, are not likely to be approved without a struggle. This was apparent last week during the joint meeting of two University Council committees.
There was criticism about the mentor programme, the details of the intensive teaching hours, and the payment of the research task of assistant professors from the student loan system.
Money that has become available from the abolishing of the basic grant system in 2015, (about 550 million over six years; the so-called student loan system), must be invested by universities and universities of applied sciences in the improvement of the quality of education. In Maastricht, the amount will rise from 5.2 million in 2019 to 15.9 million in 2024. The faculties submitted their quality agreements at the end of November, after approval by the respective faculty councils. In this first round, the focus was on small-scale intensive education, supervision of students and ‘professionalisation’ of lecturers. The University Council will have the final say.
The most important point of criticism was immediately raised last week: will the research appointments (usually 30 to 50 per cent of the job responsibilities) of new staff members be paid for from the money meant for the improvement of education? Yes certainly, rector Rianne Letschert said. But, a council member reacted, surely money spent in that way has no effect on smaller-scale tutorial groups (up to 15 students), more (seven) intensive contact hours per week and a mentor programme? “We are an academy,” vice chairman Nick Bos added, and that means that the lion's share of academic staff have a teaching as well as a research task. The University Council committees were not convinced: “Did the faculties seek out the margins? What parameters were used? What is the ratio between teaching and research?” After which, the Executive Board promised to ask the faculties for answers, before the meeting on Wednesday, 12 December. It now turns out that the faculties follow the current personnel policy for these additional members of staff: assistant professors have a research task and get time for it. The amount of time differs per faculty. Some faculties state explicitly in the memo to the University Council that they don't only want teaching assistants (lecturers who only teach), but a mixture of lecturers and assistant professors, because it is important students are also taught by researchers. This is a requirement that is also mentioned in the reports from education watchdog NVAO.
The University Council also expressed detailed criticism on points that had already been approved by the faculty councils. There were questions about the FASoS council, which wants to replace the name mentor by academic advisor in order to emphasis that this concerns subject-specific, academic mentoring. This is what staff has been trained for, say the council, not for psychological counselling. That is contrary to the Student Well Being programme (part of the quality agreements that is being introduced across the UM), the University Council said. In this programme, staff does play a role in the improvement of students’ well-being.
There was also some grumbling about the interpretation of the seven required contact hours. “The law faculty speaks of groups working independently. That is self-study, isn't it?” Council member Raimond Luja, law professor, was able to explain immediately: “It is very intensive, also for staff.” Then there are the open hours at FASoS, meant to help students individually with content-specific questions. “Is that intensive education?”, was the sceptical reaction. The faculty reacted by return post to the University Council: it is an explicit wish of the students and the council. Besides, this is only one of the many forms of intensive education within FASoS.
Faculties are now doing all in their power to convince the University Council. If the council were to want this, the faculty directors would attend the meeting to explain matters, it was agreed. The directors from FPN, FSE and FHML will be present, the office of the University Council informed us on Wednesday morning.