Science - February 12, 2004

‘Internationalisation means I see less of my children’

“My work as study coordinator means I clear up the mess that’s been created by taking internationalisation too quickly here in the university,” says Dr Herman van Eck, study coordinator for plant and crop sciences. Van Eck enjoys his work as study coordinator, but does not have enough time available.

According to Van Eck, his course was saved by the increase in international students, but there is a price tag attached. International students take up three times as much of his time as Dutch students, because they know so little about how education is organised here. “An international student registers for the course, and then we have a very long intake talk. I explain that our master’s course is thesis oriented. I ask what the student wants to specialise in, and depending on the answer we compile a course programme, bearing in mind the timetabling constraints. Then the student comes back again at the end of the first period, say because he failed some of the subjects. He couldn’t follow one of the courses because he’d never heard of DNA. He had a degree in agricultural science, which was enough to admit him to plant breeding. But you told me you wanted to be a molecular plant breeder, I say to the student. We usually manage to sort things out in the end, but it costs a lot of time, as does filling in the forms for grant applications,” tells Van Eck.

Van Eck sees it as a two-way traffic: the study coordinators are advocates on behalf of the student concerning the course, and also on behalf of the course organisers towards the student. “We are continuously faced with smoothing the friction between students and their study. We get no extra time for doing this, so it happens at the expense of my AIOs and my children. Daddy can’t take them to the zoo at the weekend because he still has university work to get done. The administration is not aware that we are the ones who pay the real price for internationalisation here,” declares Van Eck. In Van Eck’s view the international students do not bring in as much money as is believed. “I am supervising a student from Bangladesh at the moment. The university is paying the bill for childcare for four days a week and a plane ticket to Bangladesh to get the official papers ready. I’m not sure that Wageningen is really getting rich this way,” comments Van Eck.

Double workload

The introduction of the bachelor’s-master’s degree structure has also created more work for study coordinators. Van Eck reckons his workload has doubled, because study coordinators now have to approve BSc and MSc programmes, instead of the previous one doctoraal programme. Study coordinators are being asked more frequently to assess whether students have been correctly placed and whether they have the right qualifications for admission to courses.

“It is clear that the study coordinators are experiencing high pressure of work,” responds Paul Deneer director of Education and Student Affairs. “They are certainly stretched by the fact that they have to combine their work on education, research and coordinating. There is also no precise description of the tasks of study coordinators. It is an exceptionally complex matter and there are no ready-made solutions for the problem.” According to Deneer though, the budget for education-related tasks has been increased, and the study coordinators are paid out of this. “We are now going to see if we can redistribute tasks,” adds Deneer.

Guido van Hofwegen