Science - March 31, 2005

Debate / Education

The results of the recently published lecturer evaluation leave no room for doubt. Education in Wageningen is being neglected, at least if you ask the lecturers. They say they are under too much work pressure and the amount of money allotted is too little. But what does this mean for the quality? Are lecturers changing their teaching? Do they still have time for students?

Theo Hendriks, lecturer in Operational Research and Logistics:
‘There are two different issues: money and quality. I did a calculation recently, which showed that the average wage should be sixty euros an hour for lecturing. According to Brascamp (director of the Education Institute OWI, ed.) it’s lower than forty euros. As far as I know there is hardly any chair group that manages with such a low amount. I’ve been here for almost thirty years and we have never had a budget deficit in the group, but the deficits are now so high that the situation looks hopeless. And that is very frustrating. It does not have repercussions on my own teaching. I don’t say, OK there’s no more money so I’m going to stop now. A good evaluation is important, and for a subject like mathematics that requires an extra effort. So, in a way, I’m working in opposition to the model, I place the student and quality first. That the amount of money you get is so little is beyond dispute, but money or no money I put in plenty of hours.’

Laurens Klasen, fifth year student of Food Technology:
‘I don’t think education has declined in the last few years, but neither has it got better. You notice that lecturers are pushed for time, but if you need someone, it’s usually possible to get an appointment. You have to fight for their attention, though. But I guess that’s what university education is for.’

Dr Gosse Schraa, lecturer in Microbiology and teacher of the year 2004:
‘Even if there is not enough money, as a lecturer you want to do the best you can when it comes to teaching. You can’t neglect your responsibilities, and it’s also a question of honour. Now that there’s less money, you spend fewer paid hours on it. Sometimes you hear things like: preparation time can be cut down, or you use stuff you used previously. But that’s not how teaching works. You have to prepare, and that often happens in the extra hours that don’t get recorded by the boss. That’s not such a problem, as long as the situation doesn’t become structural. But I can imagine that there are already chair groups where this is the case and they have to take measures. But I hope that slowly things will change for the better, and that the powers that be start to see the light. I’m also thinking of the decisions recently made by the cabinet. If you want to have good quality graduates in the future, you have to give good quality education and that requires time and money.’

Arjan Wilkens, third-year Master student in Geo-information systems:
‘As a student I haven’t noticed much. Lecturers have little time, though, especially when it comes to being able to see them personally. Of course in an ideal world lecturers would always available for their students, certainly when it comes to group work. Sometimes a question arises, and that delays the entire group in its work. But of course learning to puzzle things out for yourself at university is good for students.’

Roel Dijksma, lecturer and study advisor for Soil, Water and Atmosphere:
‘It’s a shame that such a small amount of the total university budget is spent on education, while I would imagine that should be the main priority of an educational institution. The choice that has been made has an influence on the way in which we can teach subjects and that is proving difficult. We have to keep to the strict financial limits that are churned out of the Brascamp model, and it means we have to adjust our teaching. We have made calculations for the current degree course and for the money we get we will not be able to meet the requirements.’

Jasper Harms