News - April 26, 2018

'Focus more on independent thinking'

Albert Sikkema

WUR should boost independent thinking in teaching and research, says Ellis Hoffland of the Excellence strategy group. ‘We shouldn’t pamper students so much.’

Ellis Hofland

Ellis Hoffland heads the working group that is considering the theme of Excellence in the preparation for the new strategic plan (see inset). But in fact she has pretty much ‘had it’ with that word. ‘It’s such a hype word; everyone is aiming for it or claiming it.’ Excellence only means something if you define it, argues Hoffland. And she should know: she is the director of the Honours Programme for exceptional students.

That Honours Programme sets the following requirements: you should have above-average cognitive skills (preferably at least an average of 8 for your marks), you need to be creative, demonstrate
social responsibility, be able to collaborate, demonstrate an ability to reflect and take responsibility outside of class. Quite a long list, which Hoffland summarizes as ‘standing out’.

The Wageningen Ambassadors, who the working group asked to give their definition of excellence, came up with roughly the same qualities, but added one more — independent thinking. Hoffland thinks this could help WUR stand out from the rest. ‘We want to focus more on an academic approach in which we pamper students less and challenge them more to take
responsibility for their own education. A simple example: if you don’t turn up for a compulsory subject, you go to the teacher with an alternative proposal. So you take control rather than being a passive consumer of education.’

That means a different role for teachers too, continues Hoffland. ‘The assignments they give to students need to be less schoolbookish, with more freedom and more room for visuals and the use of the internet. There must surely be examples of this but we haven’t seen them. As a
strategy group, we want to find such examples.’

Hoffland also thinks more attention needs to be paid to excellence at the team level. ‘We can’t all be Stephen Hawking. So the question should be: what additional skills does a team need to become or remain excellent? We think that can be an important addition to the tenure track, which deals with excellence at the personal level.’

Theme: Excellence

WUR intends to present a new strategic plan next autumn. One of the 10 themes in that plan is Excellence. If you would like to join in the debate, there are two options. You can post your ideas on the theme group’s web page at or you can come to the working group
meeting on 14 May at 12:30 in Forum, room 031/034.

The theme group’s website