Utrecht University aims for more ‘rest in annual schedule’

Utrecht University wants to participate in various experiments in Minister Dijkgraaf's call to investigate how we in the Netherlands can achieve a more efficient and more manageable academic year. The goal is to reduce work pressure and course load without making concessions on the quality or mobility of education. An essential precondition is that within the experiments, it remains possible for students to enrol in subjects under other disciplines.

Creating “rest and space” in the higher education system

A number of experiments are already ongoing. For instance, the Faculty of Humanities is already working for some time with eight instead of ten weeks of education per block. Other faculties such as LEG and FSBS experiment with limiting the block to nine weeks of education. Other tests are connected to matters such as adjustments in forms of education or working with an alternative way of testing (programmatic testing instead of testing in exam weeks).

Prof. Dr. Peter Schrijver, head of the Working Group Year Schedule, says: “We've already been thinking for years within Utrecht University on ways to make work pressure in education more manageable. The minister's initiative will create two preconditions to get to work, specifically the political will to do something about work pressure, and time and money to experiment with ideas. Almost a million euros will presumably be available for experiments in the upcoming years, in which not just the division of the academic year is up for discussion, but also the forms we cast the education in and the ways in which we can provide lecturers with low-education periods. The working group will have a concrete action plan this very academic year, which we will get to work with in the new academic year. The entire track will last up to and including 2026."

The minister's initiative has created the political will to do something about work pressure and time and money to experiment with ideas.

Prof. dr. Peter Schrijver
Head of the Working Group Year Schedule

Few breaks currently

In the Netherlands, the academic year is relatively long: 30 weeks on average. In other EU countries, that is 24.5 weeks on average. A long academic year, with few moments for rest and reflection, can result in a high workload for lecturers and a high course load for students. In students, this results in pressure to perform and psychological pressure. In the vacation period, test/block preparation and work reviews also often continue, resulting in education actually having no breaks. The minister wants it investigated how he can create “rest and space” in the higher education system, and has invited all universities and universities of applied sciences to participate in a national pilot.

Working Group Year Schedule

At Utrecht University, the conversation on a smarter division of the year schedule has been going on on a broad scale for a long time (led by an earlier Working Group Year Schedule, which is now making a new start). A recent broad consultation, which included the Vice-Deans and the University Council as some of the consulted parties, made it clear that the desired interventions to have rest and space in the year schedule are not just about another year schedule and the year division. For instance, they are also about adjusting curriculums, forms of education and other measures. The Working Group Year Schedule uses these insights for the experiments that faculties and university colleges want to carry out within the framework of the national pilot. The student perspective receives an emphatic role in the experiments.