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Why we value our professors highly

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By Kirsten Kapteijns

In September, the Elsevier ranking was published. Overall University Colleges are performing well, but one topic deserves special attention: the high ratings of our professors, a fact that has also been acknowledged by Elsevier itself. Elsevier bases its numbers mostly on the National Student Survey (NSE, Nationale Studenten Enquete), which means that professors at the UCs score high among their students. On average, 80% of UC students are satisfied or more than satisfied with their professors. It shows what UCs have been advocating all along: our small-scale approach is not only a fancy marketing term to throw around, but it actually works for students.

An involved community

How do UC professors in particular get this rating? In order to try and answer this question, we dive deeper into the underlying concepts that make UC professors different. UCs often broadcast themselves as being small-scale and intensive study programs, which is not without reason: classes generally do not exceed 30 students, giving ample opportunity for discussion among students as well as interaction with professors. Active participation is highly encouraged and consequently students do not only gain knowledge, but also actively process it at the same time. This way the professor immediately has a close connection with the students: they are not a faraway expert, but a close-by authority on the subject. This results into many of our students working on bigger projects with professors next to their classes. The threshold to discuss topics with their professor is lowered. A concept UCs are very proud of, and we now see, that is valued by students as well. The atmosphere of this personal connection encourages students to get involved and might very well be one of the most important underlying reasons our professors are valued so highly: they know us and we know them.

Quality leads to satisfaction

This involvement benefits multiple of the areas covered by the NSE. The fact that students feel that their professor actually knows them as a student does not only positively reflect on the perceived involvement with their students, it also impacts the quality of the feedback and guidance by professors. Since they can focus on a smaller group of students, they can give more detailed feedback on the students individually and this feedback is subsequently taken more seriously. After all, the professor knows who you are as a student and what might help you along. When a student needs to reach the professor outside class hours, a meeting is easily scheduled, further increasing the feeling of involvement between professors and students. This impacts the quality of teaching: students are expected to actively participate in class and since classes are so small, it is quickly noticed if a student does not. By actively having students engaged in the discussion, professors encourage them to prepare for class properly and actively try to understand the material. It can thus be observed that these good professor-student relations contribute to a feeling of satisfaction among students.

All things considered, the argument seems simple: smaller classes mean less students, mean more time available per student. However, if it is this obvious of an argument, maybe it should be considered more seriously. The fact that we rate our professors so highly means that small-scale teaching works and it should continue to be one of the key concepts in University Colleges.