News - January 27, 2011

Splitting the academic year into two

For the first time this year, the academic year has been given a cut in mid year (Towards Flexibility). This makes it possible for Wageningen students to join another institution halfway and - what's more important! - for other students to transfer to Wageningen.Four-week lesson schedule: do they like it?

For the first time, Wageningen University students have four-week lesson schedules during which just one subject is taught. Both students and lecturers have a lot to adapt to. What do they think of this so far?
Terrens Saaki, third year biotechnologist
'In the morning, I attend lessons on Research Methods in Organic Chemistry, which is really interesting. Last year, this subject was spread out over an entire term, but it is now obviously much shorter.  I really can't afford to start late in the morning and I need more time to finish my experiments. If I lose concentration for just a little while, my work will be delayed and I won't have enough time to finish all of it in one morning. Actually, the subject needs a little more than three ECTS or one normal long period. In fact, this goes for other subjects too. Only then can I go deeper into the materials.'
Marijn de Bruin, Communications and Technology lecturer
'In the new system, a subject with six ECTS has been reduced to three. A lot of work was involved because it wasn't just a matter of dividing the subject in the middle. Its objectives and methodologies have to be readjusted and adapted, and there is less depth. It's not a big problem for this specific subject; it's good exposure for technologists in the area of communications. On the other hand, the subject matter is very different, and the methodologies and reading materials are less familiar to the students, who are given hardly any time to get used to these. With a short teaching period, the pressure on the students is higher. Moreover, if a subject has been thoroughly modified, not all the stuff formulated at our desks can be ideally applied in practice right away. We have already made some readjustments during the lessons. Since this is a first, it's like a trial and it's  therefore logical to have some teething problems.'
Fiona Fransen  started doing a MSc programme in Wageningen in November, after a MSc in Health Sciences in Maastricht.
'I started a MSc in Biology in Wageningen last autumn. Fortunately, the transfer from Maastricht University to Wageningen went well. I had almost finished my thesis and could make the switch in good time. Other people may face more difficulty. And yet, I prefer to have the old system back. Everyone has his own way of studying, but if you have a subject with a lot of practical work and learning material, and a group assignment to boot, four weeks are not enough to handle and complete them on time. It means having to work harder in the weekends and having less time left for fun. On the other hand, if you have a tough subject, you're done with it in four weeks.  Anyway, I think that having to learn stuff in such a short time means that it would not be retained for long.'
Marcel Dicke, chair of Entomology
'Our intention is to synchronize better with other universities by teaching the subjects in a BSc Minor in the same period in the academic year. To do this, we readjusted our Minor, changing its contents somewhat in the process. The present emphasis is less on immunology, and a little more on the economic impact of infectious diseases. The new version of the Minor is a good replacement for the old one, but the decision was not mine.Whether the 'Towards Flexibility' measures will lead to more non-Wageningen students doing a Minor here is something we can only tell after a few years. It would be great if this succeeds.'
Merlin Wensink,  fourth year student in Food Innovation Management at VHL, is doing a Minor in Wageningen University.
'The new schedule suits VHL students fine: after the third period, they would have finished their Minor and have exactly enough time - half a year - to write their thesis. Despite this timely connection, my transfer to the university has been very tough. Firstly, the standard is much higher. Secondly, all lectures and practicals are packed into four weeks. I have to make an effort from day one to keep up with reading and practical assignments. You're expected to learn everything quickly, but especially for exact sciences which need a lot of practicising to get them right, four weeks are really too short. Besides, I also need to catch up on mathematics and that makes it tougher. I think that it will be more manageable if the module lasts for eight weeks. Fortunately, after my busy internship period, I now have more time left for social contact, but I still don't have time for sports or going out much.'
Pim Brascamp, director of the Educational Institute says: 'I hope that Erasmus students will now also follow a full Minor in Wageningen, and then be prompted to do a Master's here.'
To separate the academic year into semesters, the teaching period of eight weeks following the Christmas holidays has to be split into two times four weeks. This creates three transfer moments: after the Christmas holidays, four weeks afterwards, and eight weeks afterwards. These three moments are needed because other education institutions divide their academic year into two semesters at different times in the year.
Text: Simone Herrewijn, Arianne van Leeuwen, Kees van der Ark, Nicolette Meerstadt