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Six projects that have come about thanks to the Quality Agreements

With its ‘Quality Agreements’, Leiden University is working to improve the quality of its teaching. Much has been done since they began at the end of 2018. At a meeting for delegates from all the faculties and the University Council on 11 June, it became clear just how much has already been achieved and what is still planned.

The Quality Agreements are being implemented between 2018 and 2024 (see below). Now we’re about halfway through this period, it’s a good time to look at what has been achieved and at what could be done better. The meeting on 11 June was an opportunity to look back and forward, and to learn from one another, said Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl in her opening speech. In breakout sessions the attendees had the chance to hear and talk about the different projects. We selected six good examples. After the wrap-up many participants agreed it was a useful meeting. ‘We should do this more often!’ 

Example 1: Learning My Way

Many students suffer from overchoice: how do you choose the right minor or internship? At the same time these choices are becoming increasingly important: the job market is based on the assumption of a flexible career. In the Learning My Way training, students from the Faculty of Law explore their own future, says lecturer and initiator Marc Cleiren. In two seminars they develop their own core purpose, which serves as a compass for making practical choices. Student Sema is enthusiastic about the programme: ‘Like so many students I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. Learning My Way has helped me find out more about myself. It got me thinking about how I see my future.’

Example 2: Faculty input in allocating Quality Agreement funds

How do you make sure that the Quality Agreement funds are spent wisely and that the organisation is consulted? This was the main question at the LUMC workshop on how to involve the whole faculty in the process. In an exercise, workshop facilitator Ellen Hillhorst from the LUMC challenged the participants to come up with a list of conditions that a project should meet. For instance, that the result should be of permanent use and that it should be a recognisable and concrete project with an immediate result for students. The LUMC defined such conditions at the start of its own process, and the students and staff were then allowed to suggest projects within this framework and award points to the submissions. This co-creation resulted in projects had wide support from the faculty. 

What are the Quality Agreements?

The 2017 coalition agreement stated that the funds that became available with the introduction of the loans system would be invested in the quality of higher education. The minister then asked the universities to draw up a plan for the period 2019-2024, describing how exactly the universities would do this and which quality agreements they would reach with the minister in this regard. Leiden University drew up a plan in close consultation with the university’s teaching community, its university co-participation bodies and, where relevant, any external stakeholders.

Since 2018 many projects have been realised at the faculty level. The budgets for 2022-2024 will be determined this year. After intensive consultation with the University Council (UR) it was decided, as in 2018, to apply an equal rate per student when allocating the funds and not to distinguish between faculties. The updated expenditure plan will be presented to the University Council In autumn 2021. This will include two university-wide projects: lecturer development and student wellbeing.

Example 3: StudentCare and Faculty Internship Bank 

In their workshop Audrey Aijpassa and Lisette van Putten presented two initiatives that they have been working hard on at FGGA to ensure that the information available better anticipates student questions. These can range from questions about student life and study advice to questions about inclusion and personal matters. As of recently FGGA students have been able to consult the StudentCare platform with such questions. The platform is available through the Helpdesk Portal. 
Another innovation is the new TRAIL internship database, which brings together all internship vacancies for FGGA students. This makes it easier to match students and organisations. Students and organisations can create a profile and search for and contact one another. ‘Organisations say they like being able to approach students based on their profile, expertise and interests. Very few internship databases offer this functionality,’ says Audrey. 

‘Whoa, it’s so much better organised than at my faculty!’

Example 4: The mentor and tutor system

All first-year bachelor’s students at Leiden University have a student as a mentor and a lecturer as tutor to help them find their way around their new programme and city. But there are still big differences between the faculties in how this mentor and tutor system is given shape. With the Quality Agreement funds, the university wants to ensure, as part of the student wellbeing project, that all students receive the same guidance in their first year, regardless of their degree programme. In her break-out session project leader Irène Leibbrand asked the three students present whether they thought that was a good idea. They were unanimous: a tutor group is important, they said, but the execution could be better. One of them used the example of the law faculty. Here the tutoring is included a course with a specific programme in the prospectus, and plenty of attention is paid to not only students’ study-related questions but also their social ones. In the words of one of the students: ‘Whoa, it’s so much better organised than at my own faculty!’

Example 5: Lecturer development – what would really help?

An evaluation has shown that most lecturers at Leiden University think that training and development is really important to good teaching practice. And that is in the interest of our students. But what really helps lecturers in their development? In this workshop Monique Oomes and Roeland van der Rijst presented a prototype development tool, and this sparked a discussion on how to encourage and facilitate development. One of the outcomes? The idea of mentoring lecturer development, from experienced to junior and vice versa (reverse mentoring), which will now be further developed. 

Example 6: Working together on student wellbeing

Students face all sorts of challenges at university and can sometimes use some help with both their studies and their personal development. The university already offers various forms of support such as stress reduction workshops, mindfulness classes and guidance from student psychologists and study advisers, but the support differs per faculty and is rather fragmented. Angela van der Lans, Student Wellbeing Officer at SEA, wants to consolidate the present student wellbeing initiatives. In this workshop she want to find out what people thought about the recommendations from a previous theme session on how to improve student support services: appointing faculty wellbeing staff. The participants agreed that a clear point of contact close to the students is important, also to ensure continuity. ‘The advantage of a joint network is that you can share your experiences and best practices.’

Main picture: a mentor group at the Faculty of Law.

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