Costs and Efficiency
But few students actually manage this. It took me a six! years to get an undergraduate degree. The university is paid for only three of those years. It works as follows. Tuitions in the Netherlands are low, because the government uses taxes to cover most of the actual costs of a university program. But universities are not paid for the number of students they have, they are paid for the number of students that graduate. So the university will make the same amount of money on a student's education, independent of whether a students takes three or six years. But if a student needs six, the university does have to provide facilities for that student such as classes and library access for six years. So students cost money if they don't graduate on time.
In order to fix this, universities have implemented a number of measures that as a side-effect increase stress. I want to deal with one in particular. Many classes I TA have forced student participation. When I started my undergraduate degree, virtually all classes and all homework was optional. As long as you took the mid-terms you could take the exam. Nowadays, students have to be in class, have to participate, and have to hand in their homework. To be clear, I don't grade the homework; it is just a means of forcing participation. In this way the university can make sure that students stay on track and know the material when the exam comes around.
In fact, if anything it has the opposite effect. Studies have often shown that forced learning is not as effective as voluntary learning. It can make the material less fun or even annoying, and that will mean that students learn less. Even students who could have been enthousiastic are just going through the motions. Learning is supposed to be fun, but most of us feel that studying is not. And of course, since students do the work because they have to, not because they see the benefit, they do not get the opportunity to learn such skills as responsibility or self-discipline.
Are students clients?
But the JOVD offers an additional point of critique: students are clients of the university and so the university should accomodate them. And this seems a weird position to me. Sure, students—or their parents—pay tuition to attend college. But through taxes society still pays well over 80% of the students' fees. So by that logic colleges should cater to society first and to students second.
But even if we were to take the perspective of the JOVD—all over the world plenty of people pay all their tuition fees themselves—that does not mean universities should just do what students want. Students pay for an education, they want to learn. They are not buying a degree. This means that they should expect universities to do their best to educate them, and that requires a lot of student participation. I can only adequately teach if students come to class willing to learn. If they sit back and just expect that we somehow magically transfer our knowledge and skills to them, they will never get anywhere.
You can treat higher education according to free market principles. But every market is different. Education is a service, not a product, and you cannot treat is as the latter. So yes, let us by all means get rid of forced learning, but when we reorganize the university, let's do so in a way that makes sense. Student-centered learning means doing our best, together with the student, to provide them with a decent education. It is not and cannot possibly be a one-way street.