Flexible studying


Flexibilisation in higher education has long been on the agenda in the education field, especially in the context of lifelong learning. But, in the words of former Minister of Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker: ‘”Flexible education is not only important for adults. Young people also need flexible education that allows them to make their own choices, to accelerate and to profile themselves. Education that is personalised and that also makes use of the possibilities that online learning offers.”

Flexibilisation comes in many shapes and sizes. The ISO distinguishes three ways in which higher education can become more flexible: flexibilisation in pace, mobility and programming. These forms of flexibilisation are also reflected in the four student routes drawn up by the flexibilisation zone of the Acceleration Plan.

Current affairs

Various studies, pilots and dialogues have been launched within the framework of flexibilisation. Take, for example, the flex-study experiment in which students can pay per credit or the learning outcomes experiment in which working with a fixed study programme is abandoned. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science’s 2019 strategic agenda, ‘Sustainable for the Future’, also expresses the ambition for a more flexible range of education that responds to the changing demands of an increasingly diverse group of students and a rapidly changing labour market. According to the Ministry, this requires institutions to redesign their programmes and give students more control over their own study path.

Viewpoint of the ISO

Flexibilisation offers many opportunities. Flexibility in tempo and time allows students to slow down and speed up without extra costs. Caregivers, students with support needs or students who develop side activities outside of their studies can divide their time according to their own needs and get more out of their study time. Flexibility in mobility and programming allows students to arrange their curriculum more to their own liking. The student no longer follows a programme, but the programme follows the student. This allows students to follow their own interests, to broaden and/or specialise and to better anticipate changes in the labour market.

However, flexibilisation also raises many questions. According to the ISO, when ‘fast learning’ becomes possible through flexibility in time and pace, it can contribute to the already high performance pressure if students feel that this is necessary in order to distinguish themselves from fellow students. A greater range of choices also contributes to the pressure of choice among students, particularly early on in their studies. Maintaining the recognisability of diplomas is also a point of attention for the ISO. If many students have the possibility to arrange their study programme according to their own needs, they run the risk of creating diplomas that are unrecognisable to employers.

In order to make the flexibilisation of higher education a success, the ISO believes that more extensive guidance and information for students is necessary. Students must know what possibilities there are, what choices they can make and what the consequences of these choices are. In addition, it is important that admission requirements for follow-up programmes or (optional) subjects at other faculties and institutions offer room for the many new learning pathways that can be created through flexibilisation. Finally, according to the ISO, maintaining a study community is essential for the student’s motivation and social development.

In the coming period, it will be interesting to see what role digitisation will play in education and how this digitisation can be used to make flexibilisation possible. In addition, there are also larger system issues. For example, the current funding system is not optimally designed for a more flexible range of education and it is still unclear how students will claim their study funding if they organise their study programme flexibly.

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