Science - January 15, 2004

‘The level of teaching in Wageningen has sunk that of an agricultural college’

Lecturer in geo-information science Janhein Loedeman already taught at both Wageningen University and Larenstein agricultural college before the merger took place. According to Loedeman there is little difference in the levels of education at both institutions.

Has the level of teaching at Wageningen University declined?
“I wouldn’t say that it is worse now, but that it is no longer of an academic level. By academic I mean the willingness to look behind the facts, to want to find out how things really are. Most of the learning here is about going after courses and study points, which is also what I saw when I started at Larenstein. I teach the same course there as here, but students at Larenstein tended to get a glazed look when I talked about theoretical aspects. I had to make the lectures more practically oriented, which is fine if you are being primed for the job market. Now I find that I give the same kind of lectures at BSc level in Wageningen, but in my subject area you have to have a reasonable understanding of mathematics. This goes over the heads of the Wageningen students now as well, just as it used to at Larenstein. I withhold some of the material from which some students would really benefit.

How has this situation arisen?
“The students at Wageningen now come from a variety of backgrounds, unlike a while ago when the majority were high school graduates with a science emphasis. Now there are more graduates from schools of higher education, many of whom come just to get a diploma quickly. I mentioned already two years to Bert Speelman that if thirty percent of a class don’t understand what I’m talking about, I have to lower the level. Speelman’s response was that I would have to choose for quantity rather than quality. So I’m contributing to the lowering of standards. Our motto at the university has become ‘admission guarantees a pass’. A secretary once told me off for failing a student four times for the same subject. And I’m not the only one who’s been in this situation.”

So what’s the solution?
“We have to make clear what a student needs to know before they can start a particular subject. It’s fine to let students from higher education institutes in, but only to relevant degree courses here and not to all courses.”

What about the international students?
“The culture of ‘admission guarantees a pass’ means that many international students get stuck when it comes to writing a thesis. The recent reaction of Rector Speelman in Wb concerning the ‘Chinese problem’ made me think of when the historian Paul Scheffer was criticised for exploding the myth of the multicultural society in Holland, and all the uproar it led to. But I think there is the formal reality of those in the head office, and there is the reality on the work floor here. There is a lack of vision from the head office. When do I ever get to hear from my Rector? When he sends me an e-mail about the Chinese.”

What can you do about the students who want a higher level of learning?
“We can’t get away with not offering the good students more challenges. I have decided to ignore the lowest thirty percent, and to devote the extra attention to the good students.”

Guido van Hofwegen

Re:act