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Are UU students at a disadvantage because of the strict resit rules?

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Utrecht University will investigate whether its students are at a disadvantage because of the strict resit policy that doesn’t allow students to resit exams they’ve passed. Rector Henk Kummeling confirmed this in a committee meeting of the University council last week.

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The resit policy has been a fixture on the agenda of the University Council for years. Since the 2018-2019 academic year, it’s no longer possible to retake an exam if you’ve passed the first opportunity, for instance to try to turn a 6 into an 8. That’s unfair, members of the University Council feel. Moreover, for some Master’s programmes, a high grade average is a factor in the admission process. And as other universities do allow students to resit exams without limits, the UU students are at a disadvantage.

For that reason, the student members of the University Council announced a memo that asks for adjustments to the policy. It proposes that students should be allowed to resit a ‘passed’ exam once every academic year. That way, the additional workload for teachers would be doable. A similar ‘joker’ rule was already proposed in 2018, but at the time, there was no support within the faculties.

Commitment
Once again, rector Henk Kummeling first wants to investigate whether it’s true that UU students are at a disadvantage as a result from the policy, before he agrees to a proposal like this. He says it isn’t certain that students indeed suffer from the current policy. “Compared to other universities, the pass rate is extraordinarily high at our university,” he stated in the meeting of the committee Research, Education and Student Affairs.

UU students are not allowed to resit an average final grade that’s lower than a four; in those cases, they have to retake the entire course. And resitting passing grades isn’t allowed either. “We very consciously chose to adopt a repair policy instead of a resit policy. The idea is that all students who start a course, participate in the entire course and pass all the tests. That also requires commitment from teachers. And there will be more opportunities for flexible studying, so students will be able to choose when they’re ready to put in that effort,” Kummeling says.

Repair model
The rector will not easily step away from the UU educational model that was implemented years ago. Part of the model is that the assessment of a course is not just done by one grade from one exam, but that it’s comprised of several components. During a course, there are multiple exam moments: for instance a group project, an essay, a presentation, and finally, an exam. The model was developed in such a way that within the course, you have the option of ‘repairing’ a partial grade with the other elements that also count for your final grade. That final grade, then, is an average of the grades you’ve earned for the various components. For that reason, it shouldn’t be necessary to be able to resit a passing grade.

Teachers who participated in the DUB panel in 2018 agreed with this point of view. Educational scientist and director of education Jeroen Janssen said at the time: “As a rule, I don’t see a lot of students who manage to get a grade lower than a four. And when it does happen, I always wonder: what did you do to get a final grade that low?”

Lecturer/researcher of Social Geography and Planning, Bouke van Gorp, agreed: “When there are multiple testing moments in a course, […] the regulation could be even stricter. Resit when you’ve got a five. Within the course, there’s plenty occasion to repair.”

Workload
Teacher and University Council member Toine Minnaert does fear the increased workloads that come with the students’ plan. Even if you’re only allowed to do one resit a year, if you’re a teacher of a complicated course, that would still mean a mountain of additional work because everyone will resit your course.

Moreover, he thinks, the courses are constructed with the notion that there is no resit opportunity. If there is one, you should construct the courses differently, and that would also lead to additional work.

Master’s programmes
The rector says that in UU Master’s programmes, it’s not the high grade averages that make the difference in the selection process. During the meeting, he promised he’d check whether there are, after all, some UU Master’s programmes that do still focus on grades too much in the admission process. That did not satisfy the student members: it’s still a problem that Master’s programmes at other universities do focus on grades in their selections.

Student council member Job van den Broek also wonders how many UU students are actually accepted to their first choice Master’s programme. “And the UU might have a high success rate, but if UU students graduate with an average grade of a six, and VU students with an eight, then UU students will still be at a disadvantage in the selection process for Master’s programmes and in the labour market,” he said.

Maximum of a six
In the memo, the students also call for abolishing the rule that a resit grade is no higher than a six. That, too, is unfair, they feel: “It’s about the knowledge a student acquires, not about when they do so.” For a long time, faculties had the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they had a maximum grade in resit opportunities. That meant that some students would only receive a six for their resit, even if their actual grade was much higher. The student members now want all students to get the grades they actually deserve.

That, the rector agrees with. He couldn’t imagine that faculty directors would still defend this model, and will check with faculties and programmes whether any of them still use this policy. In autumn, the university board will address the resit policy once more.

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