Have university studies become too flexible?

Fresh figures from Leuven University show that half of all students are struggling to complete their bachelor's degree within five years.  A BA should normally take three years to complete.

Herman Van Goethem, the rector of Antwerp University, recognises the problem: "The quality of students embarking on studies after secondary school is going downhill.  It's the result of increased flexibility there.  It's a complex issue that needs to be tackled on several fronts.”

Today half of all KU Leuven students get their BA in five years.  A decade ago the figure was 60%.  The students who fail to complete their courses in five years are mainly first years who change direction or drop out.

After the BA many still wish to complete their studies with an MA.  In practise many MA students finish their studies one or two years late.  At Antwerp University 27% of students manage to obtain their BA on time, in three years.  Include students who change direction after their first year and this figures rises to a respectable 75% of Antwerp University students who get their BA within five years.

More and more students are delaying subjects thanks to the flexibility of credit systems.  Antwerp rector Van Goethem warns that thanks to the flexible credit systems students from more affluent backgrounds like to shop around and complete their studies in a pretty unstructured way.  The system encourages the delaying of subjects.  There's a consensus this needs to stop.

Universities recognise that students are less well prepared when they come from secondary school, but are unwilling to let standards drop and prefer to extend the length of study allowing weaker students to catch up. Good news is that more and more youngsters are going to university including an increasing number from less affluent backgrounds.

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