“Relax a little, too much stress is counterproductive”

“Relax a little, too much stress is counterproductive”

Education Minister Dijkgraaf talks with Maastricht students

25-05-2022 · Reportage

MAASTRICHT. “A pandemic of mental stress,” is the description that Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf uses for the situation in which students in higher education find themselves. Last Monday, during the get-together Spreek je Uit! (Speak your mind), in the main building at Tapijn, the minister spoke to students from Vista, Zuyd Hogeschool and Maastricht University.

His “inner battery” is charging, Dijkgraaf puts the students at ease. They give him food for thought, inspire him, in spite of the long day that he has had at Vista College, Zuyd and now Maastricht University. The minister is doing a tour of the country in which he visits various educational institutes and asks students how they are doing, what is happening, what improvements should be made. The subjects this afternoon are more or less pre-determined: well-being, internationalisation, student financing, and the quality of education and innovation.

Escalating

Well-being. It is Marcel Bamberg, moderator of the meeting, who kicks things off: “The Council for National Health and Society recently concluded that youths between 18 and 25 years feel more nervous and more depressed than before the corona pandemic.” According to Dijkgraaf, this is “a signal that something is definitely going wrong. The pressure of society lands on the universities and subsequently back on the students. This is clearly escalating. And this is not because of COVID, it was already happening, but it was certainly aggravated by it.” Relax a little, he advised the youths, because too much stress is counterproductive.
Has anyone got a solution to take the pressure off, Bamberg wants to know. “Better mentors”, a student puts forward. Another: “Ensure that students organise themselves and act as ambassadors, that they hold meetings on topics such as mindfulness, that a platform is set up where they can safely speak their minds. There are plenty of professionals at the university, student advisors and psychologists, but I can imagine that you don’t feel free enough to speak out about your problems, that it doesn’t feel like a safe space.”

Student grant

The student grant is returning and Dijkgraaf is very happy about that. But the generations who have studied these past years (and are doing so now), were not so fortunate. They are left with sky-high debts. During the minister’s visit to Groningen a few weeks ago, he was surprised by a group of students from the movement #nietmijnschuld, who are appealing for compensation for the generation of students who studied under the borrowing system. According to RTV Noord, Dijkgraaf was in for “a hearty discussion”.
In Maastricht: no movement, no slogans and not so much criticism. Except from a third-year Zuyd student. Dijkgraaf: “I have one billion euro, which is quite a bit of money, but no matter how much we want to, we can’t fully compensate the previous generation. That is not going to happen in other areas either, where we are adapting policies. Take child care. This will soon be almost free, while the people who made use of this service before, paid a lot of money.” 

Curiosity

A third-year student of European Studies is applauded when she sketches her ‘fantasy’ – in answer to the question what the perfect educational system should look like. “It has to be built on trust,” she says. “Students are not trusted. Everything is boarded up, the rules are too strict, curricula are pre-determined, there is no space for curiosity and flexibility, for out-of-the-box thinking.” Dijkgraaf recognises what she says, he feels it is up to the students themselves to change that. “The greatest drive for innovation is you yourself. It’s your move.”

Author: Wendy Degens

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: dijkgraaf,speak up,student grant, internationalisation, wellbeing,stress,pressure

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