The Dutch Parliament has declared the binding study advice (bsa) to be a matter of controversy. This means that the discussion will be postponed to the next government. The Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO) and the Landelijke Studentenvakbond (LSVb) consider this a negative development.
Earlier this year, the outgoing Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, proposed reducing the bsa to thirty credits in the first year to give students more breathing space.
This is much needed because the mental well-being of students is in poor condition. Research from the Trimbos Institute shows that more than half of students experience performance pressure. One of the contributing factors is the bsa.
No, the relaxation of the bsa will not miraculously eliminate all existing performance pressure. That is not the goal of the proposed law, but it is an important step towards creating a healthy study environment. Therefore, ISO and LSVb urge political parties to reconsider declaring it a matter of controversy and continue with the plans.
The binding study advice pertains to the minimum number of credits students must obtain in their first year to continue their studies. The original purpose was to assist students in finding a program that suits them.
The relaxation of the bsa is an important step towards creating a healthy study environment
However, the reality is different: some educational institutions have such a high bsa that you are not allowed to fail a single course in your first year. Making mistakes is hardly tolerated, turning the bsa into a tool for retaining the top-performing students.
It’s no coincidence that the Trimbos Institute reported that many students are overwhelmed by ‘high demands, expectations, and responsibilities.’ Additionally, research from Radboud University among its own students shows that the bsa disproportionately affects ethnic minorities, students with support needs, and international students.
The bsa barely gives students without a head start the opportunity to build a stable foundation, possibly forcing them to discontinue their studies after the first year. The result? Unintentional loss of talent.
Instead, students should be given the chance to make up for missed credits in the second year. This way, they can adapt to their new academic life and demonstrate their suitability for the program.
Statistics repeatedly show that the pressure on students is extraordinarily high
Good guidance and support are essential in this regard. The bsa is often seen as a necessary incentive because ‘students are pleasure-seekers who want to study endlessly and prioritize parties and beer.’
It’s remarkable that this perception persists, despite the fact that statistics repeatedly show that the pressure on students is extraordinarily high. Graduating as quickly as possible is unfortunately already the unconscious norm. Therefore, have confidence that students can come to the conclusion themselves that they are not in the right place.
Several colleges have proven this as well: relaxing or abolishing the bsa led to improved first-year success rates, preventing talent from being unintentionally lost.
Relaxing the bsa is not a distant future scenario; it is a desirable and urgently needed change that cannot wait much longer.
Lotte Jansen is a member of the board of the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO), and Julia van der Haring is on the board of the Landelijke Studentenvakbond (LSVb).
EDITORIAL POSTSCRIPT: Two days after the publication of this op-ed, the Dutch parliament has still decided to consider the bill (lowering the binding study advice to 30 credits) before the elections.