Student Policy in an Extraordinary Year
It was fortunate that the university had already started to reduce waiting times for student psychologists and student trainers in 2019. That meant they were ready to offer additional assistance in 2020. From the beginning of the pandemic, assistance was offered under the umbrella of Radboud Life & Care. Through that platform, a comprehensive team of university psychologists, student counsellors, student trainers and other coaches were ready to help by phone, video call or email. Self-help modules, e-learnings and webinars were also made available.
About 10% of students visited university psychologists or pastors in the University Chaplaincy in 2020. University psychologist Marieke van der Burgh: “The waiting time is three weeks, and we have 20 intakes a week. Most students came to us because of burn-out complaints, stress, fear of failure or study-avoidance complaints. Others felt depressed, anxious or lonely.”
Students in (dire) financial distress could appeal to the Emergency Fund which, among other things, provides interest-free loans. Students with questions about study delays could turn to the Profiling Fund, which also offers financial support in certain cases. Soon after the first coronavirus measures were taken, the coronavirus webpage went online with up-to-date information about matters like tuition fees and study progress standards.
New Well-Being Policy Memorandum
The ‘Clear Quality and Connectedness’ memorandum, which was issued in 2020 and extends to 2023, aims to strengthen the focus on student well-being. The memorandum aims to offer all students “high-level proactive, preventive guidance”, with clarity about what students and staff can expect from each other. Much is already happening (e.g. the Community Table) but, according to the memorandum, there is no integrated vision.
The recommendation was produced as part of the Student Counselling 2023 project, to which more than 100 students and staff contributed. The aim is to increase the capacity and quality of the guidance. “The current student counselling suffices as a minimum, but it is not equipped for the future and does not offer a clear package of counselling with accompanying frameworks,” says the memorandum, which recommends reinforcement at both the central and faculty levels.
The memorandum is in line with the university’s strategy to lead students to develop into conscientious, committed, critical, and self-aware graduates who take up positions of responsibility in society. This requires excellent guidance. This was also expressed by Executive Board President Daniël Wigboldus in his New Year’s speech, with the underlying message: “Student success instead of study success.”
The Student Counselling 2023 project establishes relationships with other (university) projects and initiatives. These include User-Focused Online and the Teaching and Learning Centre that was established in 2020. The cooperation aims to do justice to the complex playing field of student counselling. The policy also ties in with a Radboud study by Hans Schilderman that confirms the worrying reports about student well-being.
The desire to strengthen academic counselling stems partly from experiences with international students (now 11% of our student population). Many of them experience problems with well-being, social connection, practical matters and study progress. They approach student advisors with questions and problems that are time-consuming and whose solutions sometimes fall outside the scope of a student advisor’s duties.
The intensification of counselling is therefore partly aimed at “clear communication, a personal approach, and a friendly, soft landing” for this target group. “We would like it to be easier for international students to feel at home at Radboud University,” says the memorandum, which recommends tutors with specific expertise about and affinity with international students.
Additional Student Support
The university made great efforts to ensure that social life during the pandemic also continued in-person, not only with lectures but also with the orientation week, a highlight for first-year students. During that week, the sports days and the market day were offered in-person.
The Student Life team offered extra support to study and student associations in 2020, for example, with new guidelines about study trips and excursions. The department also prepared a gift for student board members. “We received reports that many student board members became demotivated in this online year,” said Rob Vaessen, manager of Student Life. “That's when the strength of this campus comes to the fore: we can shift gears very quickly and come up with solutions.”
‘The strength of this campus is that we can shift gears very quickly and come up with solutions’
Associations in city buildings were also financially compensated by the university due to the loss of their main source of income: the turnover of the association. Support for student initiatives was also provided through the new Radboud Student Fund, with the Perplex and Frisse Gedachtes (Fresh Thoughts) initiatives as the first recipients.
Because of the pandemic, the International Mobility team had to urgently advise students who were abroad for studies or internships to abort or cancel their stays. This affected 557 students, 129 of whom were unable to leave and 307 of whom returned early. Many of them completed or carried out their exchange online. In addition, 121 students completed their stay abroad. Often, they could not return or the situation at their location was better than in the Netherlands. Some students stayed at their own risk.