Perhaps you thought that there’s no point to filling in the survey. But maybe you were one of the 1,612 Faculty of Science students who completed the National Student Survey early this year to let us know how satisfied (or unsatisfied) you are with your study programme. In that case, you are probably interested in what UU will actually do with the survey conclusions. Will they actually have an impact, or is it all just for show? Bupdated interviewed Cocky de Wolf, Director of Education and Student Affairs at the Faculty of Science.
“We scored below average on only one point: the schedules”, says Cocky de Wolf. “We asked the students, and they would rather have their schedules six weeks before the period or semester begins. I would love to arrange that, but unfortunately it’s simply not procedurally feasible.” She then explained all of the work involved in drawing up suitable schedules for almost 6,000 Faculty of Science students in more than 600 different courses. It turns out that it’s much more complicated than everyone thinks.
Scheduling process, registration period and post-registration
“The scheduling of classes begins long before the semester does. In March, we start work on the schedule for the first semester of the next academic year. That’s because we have to share the large lecture halls with all of the other faculties. That’s not an easy job, especially since there are so many developments in university accommodations at the moment, such as the renovations of the Minnaert building, which means we have to move to rooms in Veterinary Medicine’s Androclus building and to the education centre at the Israëlslaan.”
“The number of students that choose to study in Utrecht also continues to grow, which is of course a positive trend”, says Cocky. “But together will all of the building work, it creates a complicated puzzle for the schedules. We’re working hard on improving our capacity.”
Even though the puzzles for the schedules for the first semester are complete by the middle of August, the student desks still have to assign all of the students to groups within each course. For example, we have to take all of the different registration moments into consideration. The first group registers well in advance, but there are also some students who register for a course right before the period begins.” So in many cases, the definitive course participant lists are only available to the student desks after the post-registrations on 24 August. And lecturers or lab leaders would also like to have a say in the final group assignments based on educational or practical considerations. Only once that has been coordinated, can we begin assigning all of the students into the various groups.
Luckily, the first-year students don’t have to worry about course registration deadlines in the first semester: they are automatically registered and scheduled for the entire semester. But even for them, the schedules are only finalised at the end of August, due to the coordination necessary between the student desk and the study programme regarding the group assignments.
As in 2015, the Mathematics Bachelor’s students are generally the most satisfied about their studies; like their Chemistry counterparts, they gave their programme a 4+ average, making it the best Mathematics study programme in the country. The biggest leap this year was for Physics & Astronomy, which rose two places in the ranking to 2nd nationwide.
Pharmaceutical Sciences, however, lost out to the only other Pharmaceutical Sciences study programme in the country, in Groningen. But they only lagged behind by a tenth of a point: 3.8 compared to 3.9 (on a scale of 0-5). “Pharmaceutical Sciences is subject to the lottery admission procedure”, Cocky explains. “If it is so difficult to be admitted, then the students naturally expect everything to be perfectly arranged. So Pharmaceutical Sciences students are very critical. In that aspect, each study programme has its own dynamic.”
UU will definitely take concrete actions based on the results of the NSE. For example, based on the NSE results for 2015, UU developed MyUU app to give students access to their schedules and grades via their smartphones. Also, both the university and the faculty have set up projects to see if there is a way to announce the schedules sooner.
“The ESA is asking for input from both lecturers and students,” Cocky says. “And they can also provide input for the ‘drawing table’. But scheduling is always going to be a difficult process, especially since the lecturers and students have such different wishes when it comes to lecture times or the number of hours between lectures.”
The NSE also indicated that many students would like better guidance in the area of scientific communication, such as writing academic articles. To address that need, UU has set up the Skills Lab, where students can attend training courses and workshops and receive individual guidance in the field of academic skills.
Based on the results of the NSE 2016, UU will once again consider which actions can be taken to increase the degree of satisfaction among students.