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Executive Board column: How we are tackling the smarter academic year

Research by The Young Academy on the length and intensity of the Dutch academic year has given us food for thought. Do our staff have enough time and space to conduct research? And do we ask too much of our students? The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science asked us universities to think about this.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Leiden University Executive Board. What does their work entail? What are they enthusiastic about? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl’s turn.

In Leiden, the problems lie mainly in the amount and form of assessment. We have lots of exams and resits in the year, for instance. And exams are always scheduled until late in the academic year. This puts a lot of pressure on our lecturers, and they often have to mark exams in the summer too. The many exams can be stressful for students too. Although students generally really appreciate their resit options, research has shown that endless resits do not necessarily benefit them and can even lead to study delays.

Room for innovation

We will need to think about this and where necessary restructure our teaching if we want to prevent our students and lecturers from becoming overwhelmed by increasingly full and busy schedules. Is what we are doing still effective? And how can we reduce the workload while at the same time improving our teaching quality? These are questions that we should continue to ask – and they also fit the ‘space for innovation’ ambition from our strategic plan. We have to create more time and space for not only our staff but also our students if we are to make their workload manageable.

Three fantastic pilot projects

I’m really pleased that, having consulted the faculties, we have chosen three fantastic pilot projects that are considering various aspects of a ‘smarter academic year’. The Master’s in Crisis & Security Management is experimenting with a portfolio instead of a thesis and the Bachelor’s in Public Administration is looking at the whole curriculum to see how the teaching, assessment included, could be restructured. And the Master’s in European Law and Public International Law is investigating how blended learning and flexible timetables could improve the teaching.

A bright outlook

I thoroughly encourage these experiments and hope that we will eventually be able to share the results with our community and use them in other programmes. I am so pleased that we are working on this and can’t wait to see the results.

Email your stories or comments to nieuws@leidenuniv.nl.

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