Positive reaction to integrated MSc
Establishing a university-wide MSc programme taught in English which will integrate international and Dutch students isn't such a bad idea. This was the conclusion to a lively discussion on January 25th between Dutch and international student representatives. Careful planning is needed, however, to avert a decline in quality as a result of larger classes, and conflicts in age and experience
Recommendations included: make professional experience a prerequisite for some MSc courses, and ensure training in English and cross-cultural communication for lecturers and Dutch students. Gijs Spoor, from the (Dutch) Wageningen Student Organisation (WSO) was surprised by the results of the meeting: I had expected the international students to be opposed to the whole idea of MSc integration, and to bring up a lot of criticism. But they were so positive, I wonder whether we have missed something. Joseph Muyeti from the ISP (International Student Panel) was less surprised: I had also expected more negative reactions, but actually it makes sense to have an integrated MSc programme in Wageningen. Other universities in the US and the UK already do this. We now need to make a list of recommendations for the Dutch students to take to their meetings with the Executive Board.
One concern is that an integrated MSc will lead to larger classes. Most international students come here for the WAU staff expertise. Since small classes give students more contact with lecturers, enlarging the classes may lead to lower quality exchanges, was one reaction. In the short term, until a new BSc/MSc model becomes recognised in the Netherlands, this seems logical. However, in countries where a BSc/MSc model has long been established, students often stop at a BSc, and MSc classes are generally much smaller
Conflicts arising from differences in age and experience can become unmanageable in large classes, as well. The international students present had experienced classes with younger Dutch students who did not appreciate or understand their points of view
Lecturers will need to keep these tensions in mind. One Dutch student brought up how difficult group assignments can be, even with people of one's own culture and age group. Isn't it impossible to do an assignment together when half of the group has never been in the field? she wondered. But this is actually the reality in the workplace, one international student pointed out. We always have to deal with people having different backgrounds and skills in our jobs. However, it is not always optimal, admitted another student: In one group assignment on African agriculture, I ended up teaching more than I learnt, because the Dutch students in the group had never been outside Europe.
These tensions will need to be considered in the new MSc programme design, but should not always pose a problem. As one student commented: Some courses will naturally be more appropriate to Dutch or international students. Making professional experience a prerequisite for more advanced courses may also be a way of getting around this
It was agreed that cross-cultural communication skills as well as English training should be a priority. A poor view was taken of lecturers who slide into Dutch exchanges with students who cannot speak English well enough: The least they can do is translate the question and answer it in English, was one comment. While it was found that Dutch lecturers usually have a satisfactory level of English, there are always exceptions which could prove to be a problem in an expanded MSc programme. We will also recommend that Dutch students get English training built into their BSc so they can fully participate in MSc courses without the shock of a complete changeover, one Dutch student representative added
A point brought up more than once in the discussion was that neither international nor Dutch students form homogeneous groups. We need to get away from the idea that Dutch students are all young and inexperienced while international students are all older and have worked professionally for years before coming here, one international student stated. We differ a lot amongst ourselves as well. Some of us also come to Wageningen fresh out of a BSc while others are at mid-career. International students also have varied English language skills, others added: For most of us, English is not our first language. Actually, some Dutch students speak better English than some internationals. Am.S