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Suggestion of using mystery guests in higher education meets with resistance

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Coalition party VVD has suggested the use of mystery guests to assess the quality of higher education. I really don’t think so, said Minister Van Engelshoven in response.

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Higher education has changed considerably since remote education largely replaced on-campus classes. How has this switch to online education affected the quality of education? The CDA and VVD political parties want the Minister to keep a closer watch on quality.

MP Dennis Wiersma of the VVD suggested the use of mystery guests, if necessary. Mystery guests are anonymous inspectors who pretend to be customers in hotels or shops to assess the customer service level.

Insulting
The proposal was met with significant resistance considering all the hard work lecturers have put in to get the new system up and running. Minister Van Engelshoven (D66) did not hesitate to respond on Twitter. That’s not going to happen, she said. “These kinds of plans are an insult to the efforts of lecturers and administrators to keep education afloat as much as possible, both on campus and online.”

The left-wing opposition is also not impressed with the idea. “It is far too easy to simply point the finger at lecturers and institutions”, believes MP Lisa Westerveld of the GroenLinks party. “Rather, we should begin by reducing workloads.”

Higher education is also opposed to the idea of mystery guests. “Depressing election rhetoric”, twittered Rector Rianne Letschert of Maastricht University.

Last resource
However, Wiersma had meant no harm. He by no means intends to have an army of anonymous students dropping by online classrooms, he explained. The idea was intended more like a last resource to discover what is going on with degree programmes where students are complaining.

“As an institution, you send surveys and talk to participation councils, but sometimes you’re are not fully aware of what goes on at degree programme level”, he said. “If you have reason to believe that the quality is insufficient, then you could have a panel of students from within the degree programme take a few online courses.”

Contrary to popular belief, Wiersma said he has a lot of confidence in lecturers. “Checks like these could actually help keep confidence high. It is difficult for me to judge whether complaints made by students are justified or not.”

To be expected
Chairperson of the Dutch National Students’ Union (LSvB), Lyle Muns, confirmed that students had indeed been complaining in droves. “The main complaint we hear is that the quality has gone down. Online education is not the same, so that was to be expected.”

But he does not believe the solution is mystery guests. “What would help is finding more suitable locations where students and lecturers can meet. Or send lecturers to courses to improve their online teaching skills.”

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