Plea for the Immeasurable – By Frank Loer

Frank Loer argues why the National Student Survey (NSE) tells us little about the quality of our school.

In the October issue of B Nieuws, the Faculty informed us about the outcome of the National Student Survey (NSE). The result is considered disappointing in comparison to other faculties. The Faculty aims for a better score and it will anticipate on the criticism of students. Complaints about study load will be a key factor, the crooked correlation be- tween ECTS and spend hours will be improved. This means that students will not have to study that much anymore which should lead to a better score in the survey next year. This is a contradiction in itself: study less for a better grade. Once again we talk about quantity in- stead of quality in this Faculty. It seems that we get blinded by the goals of growth without discussing what that means. How relevant is a national survey in the development of a multifaceted school educating the architects of the future? Isn’t a great institute constituted through things bigger than a multiple-choice survey? Don’t we need ideology rather than pragmatism to achieve real quality?

Our Faculty is facing hard times in our discipline. As flourishing and busy the Faculty looks inside, so dark and pessimistic the field of Architecture looks out- side. Graduates will work in a field that is more competitive than ever. Former friends become opponents on a market where offices can permit themselves to select only the best. Experience is key, dedication a must. If we would like to educate such professionals we need resources and time. The resources we have through an extraordinary building and experienced staff, the time is a matter of investing. This investment should be made by students. The bigger the time investment, the better the architects will be that we educate as a Faculty. This might result in a continuing policy where the most dedicated students and staff members just accept the situation of spending numerous hours in architecture. Their investment will pay off in their careers, not in ECTS, and not in the Nation Student Survey.

With the crisis paralyzing the nation, we tend to loose ourselves in numbers. A new government means new policies resulting in new budgets. Our wallets are turned inside out to calculate the future. Students from now already know the fi- nancial status of their retirement. We are abundantly served with quantities, but get no answers in ideological dilemmas. A similar trend can be found in the Fac- ulty. ‘In 2020 our Faculty ranks amongst the global top 3 of institutes in our field’. Although triggered by this ambition I wonder if the criteria for such ranking re- flect our intellectual ambitions. In the same way I question the steering effect of the ECTS on our education. Can we excel within the system, or do we need an approach that offers more flexibility. Don’t we need a vision that acknowledges that we do not (solely) educate architects, but visionaries with an architectural background. Such creatives can only flourish in an environment that values an attitude permeated with ideology above a body of mandatory credits. Such an environment is hard to measure through quantities, but surprisingly simple to feel as a student or employee. It’s in the air, it’s in the corridors, it’s the soul of the Faculty.

Architecture is inspiring, fascinating, en- gaging, but as experienced by many sometimes incredibly demanding. Rein- venting the field of architecture often results in reinventing the person of the architect himself. This is the first reason why architecture takes so much time. The second reason is a wide range of interests consciously distracting us from architecture. Beside architectural duties it is easy to get disturbed by the increasing temptations from the outer world. Although there are more factors, those two reasons are part of a complexity in daily life that calls for accurate time management. Architecture students have great difficulties with this. Distracted by contemporary temptations it’s hard to reach 40 working hours as imposed by the ECTS. If you start to count the qualitative hours of working, it might turn out that the quantities actually match. That would mean that the survey not only suffers from the lack of ideological depth, but also from pessimistic students. An honest review of worked hours could be very instructive. Such an outcome should be seen in the light of the quantitative and qualitative discussion and deals with the same questions. It is not about how many hours we spent, it is about where we spent them on.

We should strongly doubt the urge for a better outcome in the National Student Survey (NSE). We should stop talking about quantity and start talking about quality. The Faculty of Architecture should be built on an ideology and protect itself from too much pragmatism. The ECTS discussion is a striking example of the wrong focal point. If we would like to make a better school, let’s talk about the ideology in our time spend here, instead of calculating it. Please con- sider this as an open invitation for a discussion about the immeasurable, about things that are bigger than numbers. A good school is based on ideological fundaments; easy to discuss, hard to measure.

Frank Loer 
Msc3 Student at Explore Lab

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