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Concerns about work pressure because of mentor programmes

MAASTRICHT. The Faculty of Law is appointing about seventy lecturers next academic year, as mentors to supervise all first-year students (roughly seven hundred). This plan is the result of the quality agreements, the funds that became available after the abolishment of the basic grant and that universities and universities of applied sciences invest in the improvement of education. The academic staff members of the faculty council, where the plan was recently discussed, are concerned about the pressure of work, which is already high.

Where previously only the ‘weaker’ students were supervised, from September the Faculty of Law will include everyone in its mentor programme. It is not about the psychological wellbeing of the students, but discussing study progress or hurdles that they come up against. At any rate, all first-year students are compelled to participate in the initial group session with ten students. Subsequently, during the year, there will be two ‘voluntary’ meetings with the mentor who “preferably” (says the plan) also teaches in first year. Students who score an insufficient mark for a block in the first two periods will be invited to a compulsory half-hour chat with the mentor.

In a recent meeting of the Faculty Council, the mentor programme raised rather some questions. Where will those seven-times-ten students come together in a faculty that is already too small? And why would we compel students to attend such sessions? The board: “We will try to do so as little as possible. But there needs to be some kind of compulsion, considering the quality agreements.”
In addition, there are concerns about work pressure, “the mentorship will be on top of everything else. I would not be looking forward to such e-mails, making plans, changing meetings because a student is sick, et cetera,” says council chairman and professor Bram van Hofstraeten. “Could a planner not be appointed?” Colleague Anna Goldberg is hoping for an online system for making appointments, in which the mentor only needs to indicate a time slot. The board will look at the possibilities on Canvas, the new Blackboard.

Also, as far as the psychological wellbeing of students is concerned, maybe the mentorship is not meant for that, says Goldberg, but of course when the ‘prescribed half an hour’ is over, you are not going to say: ‘Bye bye, see you’. “Understandable, but you are an intermediary. If the problem is too great, it should be passed on to a student advisor or a student psychologist”, is the board’s answer.
As not every lecturer is a coach, the seventy appointed mentors will have to be trained. To do so, the faculty has asked the help of the Student Services Centre and Edlab, the institute for educational innovation.

A faculty such as the School of Business and Economics, with a lot of first-year students, makes use of senior students as mentors, among others, during the introduction and for Q&A sessions. If there are questions that they cannot answer or problems that they cannot solve, they pass them on to staff members, says Mark Vluggen, director of the bachelor’s programmes at SBE. In addition, there is a policy to call upon students who have been absent too often or who have not passed exams in block period one. Moreover, students receive an invitation for a meeting with the student advisor at the start of the second period.
 

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