Study Pressure or the Experimental Phase of a Top Institution?

In the fall College students needed a breather - anextra 'break week'. An, on average, 55 hours workweek was a bit toomuch, although a number of UC students disliked the idea of beingprivileged with an extra week off. The truth about theworkload.

Study Pressure or the Experimental Phase of a TopInstitution?

In September 1998, a UC student was expected to studyapproximately 55 hours per week. It was a high target, but backthen everybody aimed high: students, professors, tutors. That wasjust the beginning. Seven weeks later, complaints on the part ofthe students overwhelmed the tutors and the Board of Studies. Alast-minute decision made by the Dean and the Board of Studiesbrought about an extra week off, in addition to the week off the UCstudents had been entitled to in the very beginning.

In an interview in Boomerang, Maarten Prak, the chairman of theBoard of Studies, justified this decision: "We had to take thatdecision because the fall break was coming up and we felt that itwould be a serious problem for most of the students to go home fora holiday with that amount of work in front of them. This pile ofwork was a problem for two reasons: first, they would not have hadthe holiday that they were entitled to, and second, we were afraidthat some of the students would go home, feeling under pressure andthinking that, if the study was going to go on like that for threemore years, then they did not want to be part of it. We felt thatthe huge amount of work was a mistake, one that we were responsiblefor."

Week off

Students' reactions towards the decision of the Board of Studieswere split, but approximately 30 percent of the UC studentsdisliked the idea of being privileged with an extra week off. Theirmain argument was that such a last minute decision would have anegative influence on the image of University College. Otherarguments they used: there was no need for a catch-up week, itwould be even more difficult to catch up with classes skipped, andan extra week off was not going to solve the workload problem. Theissue was to be dealt with in other terms, later on in thesemester. The teaching staff had to reduce the pile of work theyset the students, so that, as as consequence, the number of hoursstudents spent on their studies would be reduced as well. UCstudents were now able to cope with high-level courses, and stillhave time for a social life as well. This was more like the life ofa UC student as it had been meant to be in the beginning.

The second semester brought about even more changes. Teachingtimewas reduced from four hours to two hours per course. Theworkload was far more acceptable to students. Annelies Blom, afirst year UC student expresses her point of view regarding theworkload last semester: "I think the workload is much less thissemester. This is due to the new structure of the courses, I guess.Teachers now have to stick to their two hours of teaching, andcannot exceed this amount of time. Now we no longer find ourselvesin the situation where we had classes from nine in the morning tillfive in the afternoon. The workload was reduced, but I don't thinkit lowers the prestige of University College. It is always betterto start with a higher workload, and know you can reduce it. Whenyou start at a lower level of study, and then try to lift it, it ismuch more difficult. And besides, I think they've only reduced theworkload in some courses, because in others that really wasn'tnecessary."

Dana Mustata