Dean debates with SBE students
“SBE is a cool place to study”, several students said reassuringly during the first of a series of debates with the Faculty Board. But that’s not to say things are perfect. The students criticised the level of English, the lack of reflection, and the absence of a sense of community.
‘Talkin’ about SBE’, as the meeting is called, was an idea of the Faculty Board. But it was the students of the School of Business and Economics who did all the organising. On Tuesday, some sixty students show up in the Aula at the Tongersestraat, mostly Germans and a handful of Dutch students. The board is represented by the dean, Philip Vergauwen. Confidently, he encourages the students to let it all out: “No matter how much shit hits the fan.”
Three topics are on the agenda. The first is the strategy of the school. Should SBE prepare its students for a career? Yes, but there’s more to it than that, some students argue: growing as a person, developing yourself, working on your creative and critical thinking skills. “You’ve hit on an important point here”, says Vergauwen. “We also feel that the curriculum lacks attention for creative and critical thinking. That’s something we’re going to change.”
Then the discussion moves to one of the pillars of the SBE strategy: Problem-Based Learning. It’s a pillar that not everyone recognises. According to one econometrics student, “We don’t follow PBL at all. Every lecturer uses their own system, which is chaotic sometimes.” Others criticise the loosening of PBL during the second and third year, but most agree with the dean: PBL should be treated as a belief , not a strict set of rules that must be followed.
A thorn in the side of many students is the low level of English of some tutors and fellow students. “I was disappointed about this”, says one. “There are tutors and students who haven’t even mastered basic grammar. In my opinion it’s unacceptable.” Give them extra help, says a German student. “It’s important. English is the language we work with.” Another adds, “The level of English affects the level of the class. When we do group work the ones with the best English have to do all the work.” Everyone present agrees that the university, just as in Germany, should offer more and cheaper language courses. And not only in English: “Many of us study international business after all.”
The second topic is the quality of the education. Do the tutorials really have added value? Two thirds of the attendees agree, but the added value depends on the tutor, they say. The groups waste too much time rehashing textbooks and summarising information instead of discussing and reflecting on topics. One student stresses the importance of content expertise. “In the introductory finance course the tutor had no clue about the content. She’d been forced to teach the course, and after five weeks she quit.”
No less important for students is that the content of the tutorials is reflected in the exam. And how is it possible that there are so many errors in the exams, someone asks. “You’re right”, says Vergauwen. “That’s unacceptable. We’ll tackle that.” One girl has a “burning question” for the dean: “What do you think of an exam, called finance and accounting, that in the first round only one percent of the students pass?” Vergauwen: “One percent? Really? Then something has gone wrong, no doubt about it.”
The third topic is about the study environment. What kind of study places are students looking for, the dean wants to know. The students are enthusiastic about the new spots in the Visitors’ Centre and the Tapijn site. Some feel that there’s a lack of group rooms, “for creative stuff, for running a startup, whatever”. The dean points out that there’s a 'lounge base' at the Tapijn site that can be used for entrepreneurial purposes.
Last but not least, do students feel they are part of a community at SBE? “The German and Dutch students probably do”, says a student with a Spanish accent. “People of the same nationality hang out together. The others feel lost. It’s only because I joined Scope [a study association –Ed.] that I’ve been able to meet people.”
Others certainly do feel part of the SBE community, but there’s room for improvement. “Why not organise social activities at the Tongersestraat? We have an amazing campus and don’t use it to the fullest extent”, says one student. “Now, I only come here to study. Organise a movie night or drinks once a month – it could be a good way to connect students with the university.”