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Wim Rietdijk new team leader VU Analytics

7 July 2021
As of April 2021 Wim Rietdijk is the new team leader of VU Analytics at Vrije Universiteit. Previously he worked as a principal data scientist for the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (MIK), but his heart drew him to higher education, where policy making, data analysis and teamwork coincide. Around the same time, the report on Study progress in Corona has been released by the Analytics team. Time to ask how the switch suits Wim and what he thought of the report.

Can you introduce yourself?

I am Wim Rietdijk. Originally I was a business administrator and econometrician. In the past I obtained a PhD at  Erasmus University. After that I started working in policy positions. Until recently I had a coordinating function in the field of data and privacy at MIK. We analyzed all kinds of data for the annual reports. This was a nice challenge, but my heart goes more to higher education.

And you have been working at VU for a month now, tell me!

I like the intellectual atmosphere at the university. People are sincerely concerned with the content of their profession and I really like that, it also makes it a lot easier for me to continue working. Here you also see exactly what you mean to the end user. That wasn't the case at the MIK, for example I didn't speak to the Dutch Parliament. I spent the first month talking to people and getting to know them, since Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is a very broad-based organization. After the first 35 days, I already had a reasonable idea of the most important themes that existed and I found out that we face nice challenges and can take up beautiful projects. That will definitely work with this team! Last week was perfect for getting to know the data. The magic first 100 days is working out pretty well.

So you seem to like it at VU?

Yes, the first few weeks you always have to get used to a new position, and you have to get used to the new culture and organization. I like to attend a lot of scheduled appointments, such as at the moment about online proctoring and privacy, discussing what we can and cannot do with the data. There are guidelines that we must consider when we test data, especially with the GDPR. A lot is not possible, so then you start looking for other possibilities to deal with the data and get the most out of it. Some questions have already come in about the flow of students of certain programs, such as: what are the success factors and pitfalls of the flow of students? First you have a discussion with the parties involved, for example the faculty, or the Executive Board. Then we have to find out what exactly the question is, and how they want us to tackle it. Another example is the collaboration with the University of Twente: to what extent is that necessary, how big do we expect the number of students to be? We saw, for example, that the Nature and Technology profile in secondary schools in North Holland is often chosen, but there is no technical university in North Holland, so hence the cooperation with Twente. Another example, we at Vrije Universiteit are also involved in the Aurora Project to increase the flexibility of education, so that more education can be exchanged and shared between the Aurora universities.

What did you think about the report on Study progress in Corona?

I haven't looked into it closely yet, what I do know is that the BSA was suspended last year and is being lowered this year. What we see in the data is not very representative: it is true that in the beginning slightly more EC were obtained and that grades were slightly higher. This is not, however, the only aspect of study success: student well-being is also an important issue but we cannot see that data properly. At the Vrije Universiteit, I notice that student welfare plays a major role. We care about that.

You can also see that the lead students had made has been lost to some extent. It may be possible that after eighteen months of corona, the lead has even been eliminated. However, that remains to be seen.

What are the findings of the report?

The majority of students indicated that corona has a detrimental impact on their mental and physical well-being. About one out of three students also expected more support from the university. Of course, we at Student and Educational Affairs did not let this pass by. A lot of hard work was done by the student deans and student psychologists, among others, to free up time for the students who needed it. In addition, it is important for students to know that additional support is available in many areas. For example, there was a meeting the other day that focused on family caregiver students. Five percent of students have to deal with this. Very necessary but at the same time it also has an impact on one's study life. In short, SOZ is a policy department that is broadly committed to students. That's why this job is so much fun!

Are there any further studies that you think should be done?

My job is not just data, it is broader in different areas. You also have to serve on a strategic level. For example, how can we help the Executive Board with lobbying? That's an area of focus in which there should be even more invested. We also have to be able to respond at the tactical level, taking into account the GDPR, the privacy legislation, of course. You can think about issues such as: how can we get a better picture of student life and student welfare? Do we still feel comfortable, even if we get all the credits? Furthermore, in policy matters, we should also pursue collaboration with academia. My personal view is that many questions, relevant to a new policy, can be answered with the help of science. So that is the tactical level. At the operational level, we have a fairly good view of the data we want to use in order to be relevant to the Vrije Universiteit.