Controversial change: Flexibility of higher education system tightened to 'help students'

Controversial change: Flexibility of higher education system tightened to 'help students'
Students during university exams. Credit: Belga

A controversial change to the Flemish higher education system which will result in new students having to pass all courses from their first two years to proceed to their third year has been approved by the Flemish education minister Ben Weyts.

In Belgium, the higher education system is set up in a way that allows students to carry subjects that they didn't pass during the first exams for years. This results in more than one in four students who enrolled in a college or university leaving without obtaining a degree and just one-third obtaining a bachelor's degree within the set period of three years.

Students starting in the academic year 2023-2024 will now have to pass all their subjects of their first and second years before being able to start their third year, Weyts announced on Monday morning. If they fail, they cannot re-enrol in the same programme at their university or college.

"I realise that this is not popular. But we are doing this in the interest of the students. Today, they are the biggest losers of excessive flexibilisation," he said. This measure serves to shorten the average study duration in the region, to help students lose fewer years to higher education.

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Aside from losing many years as a result of the current system, they are also left with feelings of frustration or grief. According to Weyts, the system lacks commitment, which "students themselves pay the high price for."

He said that, aside from taking this measure, the education system needs to offer more assistance and guidance to students who are struggling with certain subjects or after obtaining poor results during their first set of exams. This includes a personal interview with a course counsellor.

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Steps are being taken to ensure students can be guided to other programmes if needed, for example, already after one semester. "Students will still be given several chances and in the future, they will receive even more guidance than today," Weyts said.

All the changes are included in a new decree for higher education, which the Flemish Government has now formally approved. As part of the new measures, students will have to take a full package of courses (of around 60 credits) more often, to prevent students from "muddling along for years with only a light package each time."

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