Is this the right study for me? Even if I don’t like discussions? School-leavers who signed on for a study of Law, European Studies, or Arts & Culture in 2011 were asked to complete a questionnaire. In the case of serious doubt, a meeting followed with the Programme Director and student advisor, which sometimes resulted in a negative study advice. Tentative result at FASOS: the outcome appears to be a good indicator for study success.
There is one thing that Patrick Bijsmans and Amanda Kluveld, Programme Directors for European Studies and Arts & Culture (Dutch and English tracks) respectively, want to clarify right at the start: the Matching and Binding project is in the first place a service for prospective students. By completing the questionnaire – do you like reading, do you like to work in small groups, how many hours per week do you want to study, which blocks in the first year seem most interesting to you – they get a better idea of what is in store for them. After all, it is the student who ultimately decides – negative advice or not – whether or not to enlist for the study programme.
For almost one third of those who registered for European Studies and Arts & Culture, completing the (compulsory) questionnaire was already asking too much. They pulled out immediately. The rest (479 at ES and 165 at A&C) did what was asked; their answers to the open and multiple-choice questions landed on Programme Directors’ and student advisors’ desks. “Indeed, that was a lot of work,” they both agree. But also “really good to see who wants to study here,” feels Kluveld. “A question like ‘what do you want to do with it later’ provided so many different reactions. From a job with Sotheby’s to ‘should I really know that already?’”
Points were given to every question and when these were added up, the outcome determined the ‘risk factor’ or chances of success. Candidates received a green (okay), orange (warning) or red light (not okay). The greens (53 per cent of those who had signed on with ES, 42 per cent at A&C) could proceed without any problem. If there were any doubts, the school-leaver concerned received an ‘orange’ warning e-mail (35 per cent at A&C, 16 per cent at ES), with texts such as: ‘We have noticed that you do not like taking part in discussions. Do you realise that in Maastricht we have problem-based learning and speaking within a group is a must?’ Or: ‘You wrote that you do not like reading or writing, but this is part and parcel of every university study.’
Those about whom there was great doubt after their questionnaires were evaluated (23 per cent at AC, 31 per cent at ES received a red light) were all invited for a chat – sometimes via Skype. “You did not do English in secondary school. Do realise that you must have a good command of the English language before you start here?” Bijsmans put this to a foreign student who spoke very poor English. He did not come here in the end. Just like the Dutch school-leaver who was honest enough to say he did not like reading and writing. Kluveld: “He wrote an e-mail a little later. Dear Madam, maybe this study is not for me after all. Fortunately I do not have a room in Maastricht and I still have time to choose another study. Thank you very much.”
Students who quit their studies also received an invitation. “Dropping out appears to be more drastic than we ever thought, it is a real risk factor,” both say. Kluveld once sat opposite a guy wearing a T-shirt that read Couch Potato. “I became a couch potato after I quit studying. I wear this to remind myself that I do not want this anymore.” Some dropouts wrestle with studying as such, others do not belong in a university, the odd one just made the wrong choice. “They are often relieved that it all gets said out loud. We regularly recommend a time management course, or fear-of-failing training.”
Eventually, 43 of the 150 who registered for European Studies and received a red status, decided against the study. At A&C, 13 did. “We hope that students filter themselves out,” says Bijsmans. The faculty cannot turn anyone away. As long as there is no decentralised selection or entry restriction, all they can do is give a negative advice. It can be hard at times if this well-considered advice is disregarded. “Sometimes it is frustrating that you cannot say: don’t come. You can just see that it is not going to work,” says Kluveld. Bijsmans: “We then write: we strongly advise you not to come, if we were allowed to select students, then we would not select you. Some come anyway.” Both ES and A&C give a binding study advice in first year. Anyone who obtains less than 42 credits, has to leave.
All students who start, are closely monitored. From day one, all first-year students are placed in mentor groups, which stay together for three years. Bijsmans: “We get together four times a year to discuss study progress. Students have to maintain a portfolio: the grades earned, what they thought of the block, what is still difficult, what is going better now. The important thing is that the student is the satnav of his/her own study.”
Does the Matching and Binding project work? Kluveld: “I hear from lecturers that they are satisfied with the new arrivals.” Student advisors Pia Harbers and Miranda van den Boorn have by now looked at the results of the first three blocks of the various categories. Their first finding was that there is a significant relation between the matching category and the results. As of this week, the evaluation will be available on Eleum for the students. The results will be taken into account when we fine-tune the questionnaire and admission procedure. Bijsmans and Kluveld have become so enthusiastic that they would like nothing more than to invite everyone for an interview. Kluveld: “One day everything was going wrong, until I Skyped a girl in Paris that afternoon. She was so surprised, she asked: ‘Sorry, are you really interested in me? That’s so cool.’ That made everything alright again.”