University students date-expired after two years?


KU Leuven is cracking down on new students who are slow to finish their first-year courses, cutting them off after two years

Pass or fail

KU Leuven is about to get strict with students who are slow to complete their studies. From the 2021-22 academic year, all students must complete their first-year courses at the university within two years, rather than rolling them over into the third year or beyond.

“We want to see a return of rhythm and discipline to the study process,” said Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven, in an interview on Radio 1 this week. At present students can re-sit failed exams and re-take courses for as long as they are studying, with the result that students in their final year may still be working on material from their first year.

This kind of delay is becoming more common across Flemish universities, with more students also extending their bachelor degrees beyond three years. The number of students who eventually drop out altogether is also a concern.

Initially KU Leuven wanted to show students the door after two years, but the university’s student council protested, saying it would create a fear of failure. The suggestion now is that students who have problems completing one or more elements of their first year will be redirected to a degree programme better suited to their capabilities.

It doesn’t necessarily shorten the length of study, since someone who is excluded from one programme can simply start a new one

- Peter De Meyer of UAntwerp

“Reorientation is the most likely outcome,” Sels said, “but we have not yet finished the decision-making process, and we are discussing every step with the students.”

The idea has received a mixed response from other Flemish Universities. Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) for one appears to like the idea. “We currently have no concrete plans to implement this system, but it would be a way to force young people to focus on their first-year subjects,” Jan Danckaert, vice-rector for education, told Bruzz.

Replies from Ghent and Antwerp were more cautious. “It’s a tough measure, and sometimes there is a justification for someone trailing behind with their courses,” said Peter De Meyer, a spokesperson for UAntwerp. “And then the system doesn’t necessarily shorten the length of study, since someone who is excluded from one programme can simply start a new one.”

There have also been calls from both student bodies and university managers for a co-ordinated approach across Flanders, possibly with the intervention of education minister Ben Weyts.

Photo: Rob Stevens/KU Leuven