MAASTRICHT. The School of Business and Economics has elaborate plans for a thorough reorganisation of its education system and is setting aside one million euro a year for this purpose. Problem-based learning has become stale, almost a cliché, says dean Vergauwen, and requires renewing. The faculty has set up five strategic teams that will put forward definite proposals before the summer.
The School of Business and Economics (SBE) does well in the rankings, has a healthy budget, and flaunts its so-called Triple Crown accreditation. Still, not everything is going well, says dean Philip Vergauwen. “For example, we have fewer enrolments for our master’s programmes than we wanted. That is partly because we have stricter selection criteria in order to get better students. But we also see students who, once they have been selected, still choose a different university. I think we have to give our master’s programmes a new look and base them on our own distinctive research, such as sustainable finance, neuroeconomics or business intelligence. This sounds more attractive than just another study of finance or marketing.”
There are a few comments to make about the strong position in the rankings too: “If we gain first place with a master’s programme and the mark is a seven, then I am less happy than if it had been second place with an eight. The quality must be raised.”
Vergauwen believes that to a large extent SBE follows the classic PBL model too scrupulously, with too little creativity, and he therefore argues for more variation and real-world input. “What actually happens on the shop floor? Which skills are important there? Professionals these days need to be good in their field and be able to turn their hands to everything, be familiar with all kinds of business processes, the relationships with suppliers, et cetera. This requires a new type of student, also referred to as a transformer, one who not only knows a lot but who can also transfer his knowledge, one who can communicate with other experts, build bridges, transform the business."
Wim Gijselaers, professor of didactics at SBE, says that in the present complex world students must also be both specialists and generalists. "That is a new discussion, which wasn’t there ten years ago. What does it mean for the education system? Should we have them work more with assignments from the business world, as happens on a small scale in the Service Science Factory? Maybe we should, but you can’t just send them off on a work placement for six months. There is no time for that in the master‘s and the bachelor’s programmes are too large-scale. More project-based learning, in which groups of students work on a real problem, could be an option, but then you would need larger classrooms. I see 'studios' with large round tables, where students and lecturers can work on a problem in the presence of representatives from a company."
A new type of student requires a new type of lecturer, says Vergauwen. “Because in that case, UTQ training is not enough. Tutors will have to learn new educational competencies, have more contacts in the business world. We have paid more attention to research careers in the past few years, now it is time to innovate the education system on the basis of that strengthened research position. Not only the content, but also how we interact with students. Why does the master’s of Management of Learning do so well, aside from its content? Because the staff organises all kinds of events, drinks, breakfasts, guest lectures, and is close to the students. It will be a challenge to create such an atmosphere of community for our large programmes.”
Organising a breakfast is not rocket science, says Gijselaers, lecturer at the master’s of Management of Learning. “But it is definitely a way to create a community and that is partly the reason why the study scores so well. It is not difficult for us with 48 students, it would be for International Business. Maybe we should start by creating more places to hang out, along the lines of the University College’s common room.”
The voice of the student is essential in the whole process, Gijselaers emphasises. "We often think we know what they want, but they weigh up things differently than we do." Gijselaers is chairman of the ‘strategic working group for educational innovation’ which collects ideas and eventually sketches the framework of innovation. “We provide the outlines, not the details. It is important that things are shaped from the bottom up." Other working groups are exploring this.
According to Gijselaers, the main stumbling block is work pressure. "It is extremely high, I see it all around me, employees have no energy left to also deal with innovation. I do wonder if the extra money that the Executive Board is making available, will solve the problem. The teaching load has increased bit by bit over the years. It won’t be easy to turn it back."
SBE wants to invest one million (including the ‘work pressure money’ from the Executive Board) in educational innovation; a total of seven million is needed. Vergauwen hopes that the departments that together have more than ten million ‘in savings’ will invest more of their reserves. After the summer the proposals submitted by the working groups - which will also hold HR policies, research and post-academic education up against the light - will be processed into “an overall approach with a plan for the coming years,” says Vergauwen.