Teachers’ Working Conditions are Students’ Learning Conditions

By Natalie Lange

In Groningen, the quality of higher education is at stake. University professors are challenged by the rising number of students every year: the classes grow like weed and the workload goes
through the roof.

Juggling their time between research and education, university teachers struggle to find enough time to properly prepare their lectures. In their fight against time, they recycle lecture material from years ago by simply reusing them. “It would be better for the students and myself to dive into something new, but the problem is that you get less time for the same tasks”, says Thijs Lijster (36), an assistant professor in Philosophy of Art and Culture.

The overwhelming workload of university teachers not only threatens to affect the quality of education offered to students, overcrowded lecture and seminar halls also contribute their fair share. The rising number of students in classes makes it impossible for teachers to properly give feedback to each student individually. The World University Rankings estimates twenty-four students per member of staff at the RUG, while it is half of the students per staff at the University of Amsterdam.

Overcrowded lectures are on the daily agenda for psychology teachers and students. This year’s
number of new bachelor students went through the roof, counting 800 new international psychology students compared to 400 students in 2015.

The movement WOinActie (Higher Education in Action) creates awareness about the increased
workload and lack of investment in university education throughout the country. Attached to the
clothes by a safety pin, a red square of fabric functions as a sign in public space.

However, Barend van Heusden (61), director of Humanities at the University College Groningen,
thinks that at the RUG not many professors or students know about the red square and its meaning due to the lack of information. At the opening ceremony of the academic year, professors were offered to wear the red square. But, as many did not know the symbolic meaning behind the piece of fabric, “the protest failed miserably”, says Barend van Heusden.

Back in September only four to five professors actively tried to raise awareness about overcrowded lectures, increasing workload for teachers, and the lack of funding. Barend van Heusden believes that other professors would also endorse the ongoing protest if they knew about it and weren’t swamped with work.

Only a few weeks later, things changed for the better when RUG professors participated in the
national action week of WOinActie, running from the 24th till the 28th of September, holding open-air lectures to draw attention to the breaking point of higher education.

Sitting in the same boat, more professors and students in Groningen started to wear the red square in hope to change the devastating working and studying conditions at the RUG.