I get tons of energy when I see a student developing in their study again

“Supervising students is such a wonderful job to do. I can be that one contact person who is there for them, who they also call in the evenings or weekends if they really need to. I am not their mother or a youth worker, but I can give them a push in the right direction”. Anita Zuliani-van den Berg and her three colleagues are extremely busy coaching long-term students. She does this for the Industrial Design Engineering degree programme.

As coordinator for long-term students, you don’t need to know the finer details of the THUAS Quality Agreements. But Anita is pleased that Industrial Design Engineering has decided to use the study advance funds, which are to be used to implement the Quality Agreements, to supervise long-term students – her area of expertise. The degree programme is committed to providing extra support to long-term students, to highlight how and why students experience delays and what the degree programme can do about that. Also, to collect data and formulate activities aimed at the team of lecturers. Anita gets a lot of energy when she sees, up close, how students develop in their study again. How – sometimes after years of complacency – they find motivation again so they can get to work and successfully complete the degree programme. “That really pleases me. I support the long-terms student for a long period. You naturally build a bond that way. It is often tricky but necessary to maintain a clear distinction between coaching and counselling”.

Between my linen cupboard and drying rack

She has an intensive job. “I do, and when I’ve had three intake meetings one after the other, I’m quite tired in the evening. I sometimes hear extreme stories. Certainly now that I have to hold those meetings online, between my linen cupboard and drying rack”. Anita is very clear when talking to long-term students. “I say to them: ‘It’s your party. You have to get your diploma; I will be supporting you along the way’. I want to find out as soon as possible why they are unable to study. And what is needed to change that in the short term. That could mean, for example, that I refer a student to their GP to talk about medication for ADD or ADHD. Or to a student psychologist if someone is dealing with depression. Sometimes, their home situation is downright unsafe. In that case, I advise the student to first create a safe place to live”. “It could also be the case that a student simply needs a little push to get going. I am quite good at that. And there are times when there’s nothing seriously wrong. For example, that someone has been running a thriving business for years and they just don’t get around to graduating”.

Light, medium, heavy

The longest period that Anita spent coaching one student was for ten years. “I thank them for sponsoring The Hague University of Applied Sciences for so long and so loyally. Or I show them how much they have paid per credit in the past years. It is a joke to break the ice, but it also has a serious undertone. I first approach those from the oldest cohort, and I work forwards. I now also supervise fourth-year students with a lengthy study delay”.

I thanked him for sponsoring The Hague University of Applied Sciences for so long and so loyally

The Industrial Engineering degree programme is developing a new curriculum which includes a new coaching learning track. “We work with light, medium and heavy packages. The students can say beforehand: ‘I think I need a heavy package’. That enables us to pay more attention to vulnerable students from the start. That is, if they acknowledge they are vulnerable”. The aim of coaching is to teach students to independently shape their professional and personal development. The students obviously need to take more responsibility later.

Two blocks of kindness

“At the start, I speak to a student regularly. That creates a connection and a rhythm. I take a little step back when it is possible, given the circumstances, and the courses they are following. I always give the long-term students two blocks to show what they really want to do about their study delay. If I don't see enough study progress and appropriate motivation, we have a different sort of discussion. If it really doesn’t work, I politely show them the door. That provides clarity in any case”.

Always customisation

She emphasises that you don’t become a long-term student for fun. “I am shocked by the amount of suffering some people have to cope with at such a young age. As a coach I can offer them some relief. During a discussion, it could become clear that the study simply can’t be prioritised at that time. And that the extreme problems need tackling first. Sometimes, students just require a bit of rhythm and routine or have trouble planning. Or sometimes, they are struggling with the final thesis or they give up as soon as they have to do something in a group. It is always a question of customisation per student and fortunately, I can always depend on the flexibility of my colleagues by, for example, letting someone go on to enrol in a minor”.

During a discussion, it could become clear that the study simply can’t be prioritised at that time

No one gets special favours

“No, I will never arrange a good grade for them. No one gets any special favours. The long-term students must prove they meet all the competencies to graduate. I can see if the conditions to be able to study can be improved. And I can be there for them. If they need to, they can call me day and night. That availability and proximity are crucial and make a massive difference”.