Bas Elema (32) graduated on 22 March, 15 years after starting on his degree in Food Technology at Wageningen. He is the last person to be granted the title of ‘ingenieur’ (the Dutch degree title now replaced with a Master’s degree). ‘Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes’, he thinks.
'In 1996 I started doing Chemical Technology in Enschede. In 1998 I transferred to Food Technology at Wageningen. That was fifteen years ago. I took almost three times as long as the average student now.'
Were you a lazy student?
'You don't become an eternal student for no reason. When tuition fees went up and grants became conditional on gaining a certain number of study points, I had to work really hard to fund myself. I mainly put together orders for the notorious spare parts dealer Brezan. Particularly soul-destroying work. And then I was a member of Unitas for years, where I did almost everything except being on the board. I learned a lot from that, from the sociable atmosphere and the way you learn to build up a network.'
Is it nice to be an ingenieur?
I was allowed to choose whether I wanted the title of ingenieur or Master of Science. I think ingenieur is rather fun. But only for official purposes.'
But - fifteen years?
'I made mistakes and got into problems. In Enschede I became addicted to the internet and spend 16 hours a day at the computer. So in Wageningen I deliberately did not have an internet connection in my room. But I still spent many hours at the computer at the university, and not just working on my studies. During my final courses I also began to question whether this was really what I wanted. I couldn't see myself working in a lab.'
Where, in that case?
'Since I decided to go into education three years ago, I haven't taken any extra time at all. Last week I got my teaching qualification. I teach chemistry to High School classes at the school where I did my teaching practice. Education is great. It makes demands on your knowledge and you are also working with people, dealing with pedagogy and psychology. Like this I can make the world a slightly better place.'
Good idea of the cabinet's, to put a stop to endless studying?
'Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes. The government should provide positive stimuli to graduate in good time rather than punish those who take longer. But you should prevent people from taking as long about it as I did. For a long time I didn't realize it wasn't going well. A student councillor should keep an eye on things and invite you to come and talk about it if you are not getting any study points over a long period of time.'
Any advice for today's students?
'Do consider taking a year to work on a board or in a student society. You learn so much from it. And if you get stuck, get yourself a girlfriend who will encourage you and think things through with you. I am going to marry her this summer.'