Lost in translation?

The labyrinth of VUB arrival processes

With any luck, we should all now have successfully enrolled, registered and gained access to VUB digital platforms. But goodness, reaching this point was a real struggle.

By Stephen Gilmore

Let’s take VUB’s mystifying decision to adopt synonymous terms to describe different processes: ‘enrol’ and ‘register’. You enrol on a programme, but you register for a course… or is it the other way around? This sort of jargon smacks of top-down decision-making and an indifferent attitude to potential confusion among those not in the know, in this case the students – ‘they’ll work it out’.

Well it’s true that to make it this far we will have had to work it out, but is navigating a bureaucratic maze how the first few weeks of a new student’s life at VUB should be spent?

Before going any further, a few words by way of disclaimer: to my shame, my Dutch is non-existent, so I can only speak to the English-language arrival experience. But I have been led to believe that problems with the processes of acceptance, enrolment and registration – to which we will now turn attention – exist across this language barrier.

Upon arrival at VUB, students must first enrol – a process for which, ironically, you must register (for an appointment). Though the personal appointment itself is hassle-free, the need to arrange one – rather than, say, specific enrolment times for certain programmes or departments being allocated – means it can be two or even three weeks into the semester before some students gain access to VUB digital platforms.

Is navigating a bureaucratic maze how the first few weeks of a new student’s life at VUB should be spent?

Then there is course registration: once granted access, a fairly straightforward process, but does it have to happen in this order or in this way? Would it not be possible for students to ‘pre-register’, that is, elect their courses and be given a University alias before arriving at VUB? Students would then have a one-stop-shop venue for receiving information about the welcome week and other arrival processes, and even the means to access course material via Canvas. Even if this necessitates paying tuition fees in advance, might it not be a preferable alternative for students?

Before all this, of course, comes the application process, which merits some words, too. The application portal gives limited, occasionally out-of-date information on the progress of an application. It can also be quite prescriptive, indeed restrictive: for example, I received an email requesting confirmation of my language proficiency, despite having already submitted my degree transcript from an English-language institution, which according to VUB’s own guidelines constitutes sufficient evidence in itself. So it is easy to see how the process is limiting VUB staff’s ability to exercise their own judgement or common sense. A box was missing; a box must be filled. Tick box exercises can be useful, but they will also necessarily render the processes they govern inflexible.

This is not to say that the overall system for student arrivals is the result of a consciously flawed design – rather, most probably, a passive accumulation of seemingly disparate processes. Nor is it to criticise the public-facing staff and students involved in carrying out these processes, all of whom I am confident are as friendly and eager to help as those I encountered.

But these staff members are being held captive by the system, and we students are becoming lost in it.

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