When deciding to undertake a couple of postgraduate degrees in a different country, you have to prepare for encountering cultural discrepancies.
Of course—you might think—that is a no-brainer! When you come from somewhere around the equator you have to invest in warm clothing, when you move into a student dorm there are suddenly things like rules, and independent you will be treated like a five-year old again. For instance no candles or sharp knives (a bane for anyone semi-serious about cooking) and the cookers are really, I mean really, really strange. You have to learn that your stern German boundaries are challenged by flat-mates and office-mates, and that ‘stealing’ and ‘taking something from a closed box without telling anybody, using and hiding it in ones own drawer’ are not the same thing—apparently.
But what I would not have expected is to learn that high drop-out rates at university are a bad thing. I will never forget when a colleague told me about the incredible high drop-out rates from that one institution and when I asked how high they were the colleague said 6%. I almost KEELED OVER. Was that person serious?
In my alma mater we would brag to each other that we managed to stay in courses with drop-out rates around the 70% mark. The electro-engineers were particularly proud because their numbers were somewhere between the 80-90% mark. So I have been acculturated to understand high drop-out rates as indicative for a high quality and a highly competitive work-environment. With this understanding came, of course, pride. Pride that you did not drop out. It gave you security. You knew you were not only hard working but also quite good in what you were doing.
When everyone pretty much passes everything—where is the competition? Where is the challenge to really do well? You don’t really have to fight for what you want. Well, this at least was the mindset on my arrival.
Of course having worked in learner support and with undergraduate students I have learned that this is a pretty naive way to view the issue. Yet, one point keeps bothering me. I have read a lot of commentaries and articles during the last years, where academics complained about the dropping quality of student work. There was discussion about how students are dragged along because apparently student retention is a criteria for the quality of a university (or any HEI or FEI for that matter).
Now do you see my dilemma? Student retention was also an indicator for the quality of a university at home—only that we measured it the other way round.