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1. Developments in Education

Online Education: Difficult for Students and Lecturers

Thanks to the aforementioned survey about well-being and educational experiences amongst staff and students during the pandemic, we have a good picture of the educational experience in 2020. Although we tried to offer as much in-person education as possible outside the lockdown, it was inevitable that most education would take place online after March.

The survey showed that online education is hard on students and staff alike. A total of 70% of employees reported that education deteriorated this year, compared to the period before the pandemic. More than 80% of students reported that collaboration diminished – both amongst themselves and with lecturers – which was experienced as a great loss. Moreover, online collaboration makes greater demands on organisational skills and requires extra energy from many students.

Students experienced major problems with the structure of their studies (60%) and have motivation problems (45%)

The university’s administration conducted additional research into the bottlenecks students must overcome. It found that 42% of students were satisfied with the quality of education and 24% were unsatisfied. Many students experienced major problems with the structure of their studies (60%) and have motivation problems (45%). Engagement and connectedness are also problematic: students miss each other, their lecturers, in-person education and the daily structure. Furthermore, 57% feel less able to study and two-thirds report a more negative state of mind.

This reduced well-being has only had a limited influence on study progress. The number of course credits obtained in the first part of the 2020–2021 academic year appears to be only slightly lower than in the same period the year before (4.77 versus 4.92 EC). Senior Master’s students in particular reported a decline, while we saw a slight increase amongst Bachelor’s students, including first-year students. 

Five Percent More Students

Radboud University had 24,104 students in the 2020–2021 academic year, 1,128 more than in the previous year. This is not a result of strategy; the university has no growth target. Across the Netherlands, the number of enrolments rose by 8%. This is partly due to the coronavirus measures, which resulted in considerably more pre-university students graduating in 2020. Moreover, many of them probably decided against taking a gap year because of the pandemic.

All faculties are seeing an increase in enrolment except the medical faculty, which only admits a fixed number of students (quota). The Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies had the largest increase (17%, or 126 students). Campus-wide, the growth is in line with a trend: the number of students increased by 21.1% over the past five years, and by 28.7% over the past ten years (from 18,727 in 2010 to 24,104 in 2020).

The number of students enrolled at Radboud University for the first time (Bachelor’s, Master’s and Pre-Master’s) rose by 3.9% this year, to 5,926. The number of ‘new’ students in a Bachelor’s programme increased by 1.9% (total number of Bachelor’s students: 13,731). The number of ‘new’ Pre-Master’s students increased by 10.7% to 1,027, and the number of Master’s students increased by 7.4% to 8,676. Students from elsewhere are increasingly able to find our Master’s programmes: their enrolment increased by 7.1%, to 726 students.

The higher number of Master’s students can be explained by the fact that Bachelor’s students, under certain conditions, are allowed to move on to Master’s programmes during the pandemic, even if they are still missing a small number of course credits in their Bachelor’s programme. The number of Master’s students also increased because some postponed graduation due to the pandemic.

Leniency with the Binding Study Advice

The increase in the number of students at Radboud University is partly due to the retention of some 650 students who would normally have received a negative binding study advice (BSA). Because of COVID-19, the advice to these students has been withheld. In previous years, leniency had already been granted to first-year students who stayed below the norm and could cite personal circumstances to justify this. This year, COVID-19 was declared such a special circumstance for all students, a national measure. The result: normally, nationwide 7.0% of students drop out in the first year; this year, it was 5.4%. This does not include the students who deregistered before 1 March 2020.

Quality Assurance

The following programmes were audited and received a positive evaluation in 2020. Because of the coronavirus measures, these inspections took place online:

  • Faculty of Arts: the Master’s programme in European Studies (joint degree with the University of Münster).

  • Radboud Teachers Academy: all one-year university teacher training programmes.

A request for accreditation has been submitted to the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) for these degree programmes. Due to the pandemic, some educational inspections have been postponed to reduce the workload of lecturers and other people with educational responsibilities. These inspections will take place in 2021.

In 2019, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science indicated a desire to research the options for institutional accreditation. Radboud University actively participated in the official VSNU work group on this topic in 2020. In early 2021, a letter to Parliament is expected with a proposal for a new quality assurance system. There is broad support for this, but it is not yet a certainty. A new cycle of the existing institutional audit quality assurance will begin in 2024. That would be a logical moment for a system change. If that comes to pass, it will replace the Institutional Audit Quality Assurance granted to Radboud University in 2017. This means that the individual programme accreditations will lapse.

Campus in Venlo

Radboud University and Maastricht University signed a covenant in November. Part of this involves the development of programmes in the fields of biotechnology and applied physics on the campus in Venlo. In addition, a new MBA programme for healthcare professionals is on the agenda, as well as the development of continuous learning paths with partner institutions in intermediate and higher vocational education (MBO and HBO). A joint teacher training programme in Limburg is also on the horizon. In this way, the universities hope to contribute to the resilience of the region and to meet the social demand for teachers.

In the field of medicine, both universities are already working closely together with the signing (in 2018) of the Academic Alliance. Together they are developing innovations for quality and sustainability in healthcare, prevention, and maintaining and improving the health of the population. The alliance is a driving force and knowledge centre within networks of healthcare providers, in its own region and beyond. In terms of research, there are already collaborations in neuroscience, cardiovascular disease, genetics and imaging.

University-Trained Teachers in Primary Education

Professor Anna Bosman, director of the Pedagogical Sciences for Primary Education (PWPO) programme, together with four partners, received a grant of half a million euros from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Science in 2020. The money is meant for collaboration between the programme and the school boards, with the Faculty of Social Sciences as the consortium leader. This will give an enormous boost to the first fully university-based primary school teacher training programme, which was established in 2018.

The first group of ten students graduated in 2020, and most of them went straight to work. A related Master’s programme is now under development, with an anticipated start in 2022. Luc Schonenberg, one of the first graduates, observed that the initial scepticism about the academic added value had diminished at his placement school. “They noticed that I gained a lot of knowledge during the programme. At the end of my internship, they said they would like to see university students more often.”

Doubts about the added value of the programme have disappeared, partly due to the growing shortage of teachers. In founding this programme, the university wanted to contribute to reducing this shortage, in addition to a substantive goal. Anna Bosman: “The very purpose of the university is to explore what works and what doesn’t from a didactic point of view. You want to pass that knowledge on to the students.”

‘At the end of my internship, they said they would like to see university students more often’

- Anna Bosman

European Universities Initiative Neurotech

The European Commission has given the green light for Radboud University to ally with seven other universities as participants in the European Universities Initiative. This involves: Oxford University (England), the University of Bonn (Germany), Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), Miguel Hernández University (Spain), Boğaziçi University (Turkey), Iuliu Haţieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy (Romania) and the University of Debrecen (Hungary). This group now forms one of more than 40 European alliances.

The European Universities Initiative enables exchanges in education, research and employment. Students can therefore study at all the institutions involved without any restrictions. This way, they can gain international experience and benefit from the specific expertise of the universities. New Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD programmes are also being jointly developed. This will make it easier for scientists to improve their teaching and collaborate in research. You can read more about NeurotechEU in the chapter on impact.

Internationalisation Award

The Bachelor’s programme in Philosophy, Politics and Society (PPS) at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies won the Radboud Internationalisation Award in 2020. The programme began in 2018 and – with students from 18 countries – it has made the faculty much more international. The award is given annually to an initiative that promotes the internationalisation of education at the university in an outstanding way.