For a long time, top sports and Problem-Based Learning seemed incompatible (partly because of the compulsory attendance). A racing cyclist such as Tom Dumoulin, who was studying Health Sciences around 2010, received insufficient support to complete his bachelor's.
Three years later, the UM did not sign the NOC*NSF's FLOT (Flexible Education and Top Sports) action plan. This is a collaboration between institutes of higher education and the sport's organisation in order to improve support for top athletes and recognise ‘dual careers’: upon completion of the programme, students receive their diplomas as well as a certificate from NOC*NSF.
“In 2013, we felt that PBL was not suited to meet the requirements of the action plan, but today we do more than many other universities,” says head of UM Sports, Birgitte Hendrickx. For quite some time, the UM has had the Regular UM Top Sports Support facility for students performing on a regional level. But as of September, there will be additional support for top athletes operating on a national and/or international level. In addition to free access to the gym and other training facilities in the university sports centre, there is also money from the ‘Profileringsfonds’ and an annual compensation of 250 euro for participation in national or international championships. There will also be Meet&Greet events for top athletes, study advisers, Topsport Limburg (the organisation that assigns top athlete status and categories), and deans from the Profileringsfonds.
Faculties are also “more flexible when it comes to registering for a tutorial or practical. Eligible students receive first choice for a specific day and time. There is also the possibility to take six years to complete the bachelor's.” But as far as Hendrickx is concerned, it could be even more flexible, certainly when it comes to the timing of exams. “Sometimes the exam week falls in the middle of a major tournament or training camp. Obviously, it is not up to me, but up to the faculties, but additional oral exams or assignments could make life a lot easier for top athletes.”
Hendrickx cannot say how many top athletes there are at the UM. “Topsport Limburg supplies us with a list of students who have been awarded the top athlete status, but athletes from outside the province have to personally report to us. The same applies to foreign students. They have access to the same facilities as the Dutch. NOC*NSF checks their level and then determines what status they would have in the Netherlands.” The fact that sister institutes do know how many top athletes they have, has to do with a tick box in StudieLink. “That has not been activated for the UM. We want to adapt that.”