Fewer drop outs, more electives: Leiden lecturers on English universities

The drop out rate among first-year students at English universities is much lower, and departments offer much more opportunity for students to broaden their studies. These were the findings of a delegation of Leiden lecturers during a working visit to England and Ireland.

Tuition fees tripled

Eighteen Leiden lecturers recently paid a working visit to two universities in Manchester (England) and Cork (Ireland). These participants in the Leadership in Education programme visit foreign universities to gain inspiration for introducing innovation into their own teaching programmes. Guido Band, Egbert Fortuin and Marjan Groot discovered some interesting differences between Dutch and English universities. Tuition fees in England tripled last year, which is having an effect on the accessibility of higher education. The University of Salford in Manchester has traditionally attracted local students from lower income groups, and feels an extra responsibility for the fate of the region. The entry requirements are in some instances adjusted for students from lower socio-economic groups in an effort to ensure that they do not feel discouraged. The emphasis at the University of Salford is on vocational training and employment opportunities. The city has a new media park that is attracting companies from the media and ICT sector, currently a booming area. The initiative can be compared to the Leiden BioScience Park.  


Attracting students and keeping them

The University of Manchester has a more elite status and sets higher entry conditions, which in turn means that students have higher expectations of the quality of the teaching. The university therefore invests in good study facilities and a high success rate - and the students are indeed successful. It was an eye-opener for the Leiden party to discover that English universities are concerned about a drop out rate in the first year of between 7 and 10 per cent, while the figure in the Netherlands is much higher. Apparently English first-years perform better because they are only accepted after they have performed well in an entrance exam and an enrolment interview. This apparently has a positive effect on students' motivation. A further factor is the strong community bond. First-year students tend to live on campus and many senior students also have a tutoring role - both factors that have a strong bonding effect.

Breadth or depth?

The programmes offer much more opportunity for elective subjects than in the Netherlands. In England students can take a science subject and at the same time take courses in language and culture, or vice versa. This does mean that they miss out on more in-depth aspects of the subject and as a result research is less interwoven into the teaching.  Many graduates do not go on to work in the field of their study, and benefit from a broad-based bachelor's, but those graduates who do want to go further in their chosen field still have a lot to learn after they have graduated. The Leiden lecturers were also surprised to learn that far fewer students carry on to take a master's or a PhD than in the Netherlands.

Career in teaching

It is much more common in England for lecturers to be involved only in teaching. A new development is that different universities want to reward good lecturers in the same way as excellent researchers, allowing them to take a PhD and later go into research. A number of the Leiden lecturers wondered whether a title such as 'teaching-based professor' would ever be a possibility in Leiden.

(17 December 2012 / Guido Band / Egbert Fortuin / Marjan Groot)

Last Modified: 17-12-2012