News - June 23, 2011

Does no Master's degree mean a poor lecturer?

If State Secretary Zijlstra has his way, all university of applied science (HBO) lecturers will have a Master's degree by 2020. In this way, he hopes to remove all doubt about the quality of universities of applied science following scandals such as the Inholland affair. Currently, around 63 percent of all HBO lecturers have a Master's degree from a university or university of applied science. But does that make them better teachers?

Hans Hardus
Program director for Animal Management and Coastal and Marine Management at VHL
'A Master's title is a waste of time for a lot of lectureships. Firstly, it only leads to an increase in staff costs and secondly, a Bachelor's from a university of applied sciences is all you need for dissection or analysis practicals or for study careers and development counselling. The key thing is to be able to connect with students. Of course I need people with a Master's for the theoretical subjects, but if it is a question of practical knowledge and skills, I would rather have someone with a Bachelor's degree and practical experience. I regularly ask people to take practical courses to ensure there is a closer match between the degree subject and its application in practice. Lecturers who go on to take a Master's degree do so primarily for their own career development. In my view, this does not usually lead to an improvement in the quality of teaching. You are better off reducing the group size or taking other measures with a proven effect.'

Daniel van der Kleij
Second-year student and a member of the Environmental Sciences programme committee at VHL
'I think it would be good if lecturers had done a Master's degree as well. I have noticed that some lecturers tend to restrict their teaching to the specific subject area they originally specialized in. Sometimes lecturers will teach two subjects within a module, but their lessons will still mostly deal with that one area where they happen to have a lot of knowledge or experience. I sometimes miss the broader knowledge and overlaps between subject areas. Besides, a lecturer with a more academic background will be better able to counsel students who want to go on to study at an academic university.'

Marga de Wild
Head of Human Resource Management at VHL
'We don't have a system to track the educational qualifications of lecturers, and there is no official policy in this area. It would certainly be a good idea to establish basic qualifications applicable to the entire university of applied science. Educational qualifications are certainly relevant but are not the only factor. Lecturers must have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and didactic skills. Motivation is never an issue and our lecturers pretty much always have the necessary subject knowledge. The discussion about lecturers' level of qualifications is interesting, though. For example, there is the question of whether you should let others review your work. At academic universities it is customary for your work to be assessed by your peers but that is not common in the rest of the education system from primary school to university of applied science, whereas people could learn a lot from their colleagues.'

Martin Mulder
Professor of Education and Competence Studies at Wageningen University
'Lecturers at universities of applied science must satisfy two requirements: theoretical knowledge and practical expertise. I have worked as an HBO lecturer myself and discovered then that both were essential. Lecturers need to have a level of knowledge that is much more advanced than the material they are covering and they need to show how the content is applicable in practice. Students have had quite enough of lecturers who know nothing about the practical applications and are also unable to answer questions that go a bit deeper. The days when lecturers just had to be one page further than their students are over. They have to excel in their subject and be inspiring. How else are they going to be able to teach both the excellent students and the students who have difficulty with learning? So Zijlstra is right to say that HBO lecturers need a Master's degree. As long as they also have sufficient practical expertise and experience, otherwise people will be complaining again in a few years time that HBO lecturers are too theoretical.'

Mieke Theunissen
Major coordinator for Equine Leisure and Sports, and Equine Business and Economics at VHL
'It is not a bad thing for new, young lecturers to have a Master's degree. In my case, I became a teaching assistant quite soon after graduating from VHL. As soon as I got a permanent position, I started studying for the Equine Science Master's degree, an online distance course. I have to submit my research thesis by the end of June. Colleagues with lots of practical experience in the equine sector can also get far but in my case I didn't have their work experience and years in the field. I wanted knowledge and know-how that went further than what fourth-year students would have so I could help them get on. I am already seeing the benefit of my degree course. I feel more confident when I stand in front of the class and I am getting recognition from my colleagues and students for my specialization, the training physiology of horses.'

Ab Groen
Director of Corporate Education & Research at Wageningen UR
'It is important for HBO lecturers to be well educated, know what they are talking about and to be able to stand their ground in terms of didactics. But a Master's degree does not tell you anything about a lecturer's performance. There are good lecturers who don't have a Master's degree and who would then have to go, which defeats the whole object of the measure. Universities of applied science should have sufficient resources to appoint good lecturers, provide them with opportunities for refresher training and retraining during their career and for contact with science and day-to-day practice.'

Jan van Merriƫnboer
Lecturer in Planting at VHL
'In my case, I did a university of applied science degree in my subject and one in teaching, and I have a lot of work experience in the private sector. As a lecturer, I wanted to know more about the analytical side of my subject and so I decided to do the Landscape Architecture Master's at Wageningen, specializing in Social Spatial Analysis. I have nearly finished it. From the very beginning, I have used my new knowledge wherever possible when supervising my students. I am convinced that the fact that I now have a broader base has made me a better lecturer. But I certainly don't think that lecturers with only practical experience or a Bachelor's degree from a university of applied science are performing badly or that every lecturer should do a Master's degree. That is something you should do because you want to. Life-long learning is my motto.'