You obtained your doctorate (cum laude) in quantum chromodynamics and were appointed Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences. Besides doing groundbreaking research, you also have to teach the Quantum Mechanics 1 course. No problem, of course, because you are immersed in quantum mechanics all day long and often still dream about it at night. You pick a great textbook (Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by David Griffiths & Darrell Schroeter) and, filled with passion and enthusiasm, you start teaching second year students that physics at the atomic scale is fundamentally different from physics in everyday life. You kick off the first lecture with a nice quote from the textbook: ‘Quantum theory retains to this day some of the scars of its exhilarating but traumatic youth. There is no general consensus as to what its fundamental principles are, how it should be taught, or what it really means.’
‘Wait a minute, not so fast – do you have a UTQ?’
‘A University Teaching Qualification.’
‘Uh … no …’
‘Well, then we have it in for you!’
The UTQ is a piece of paper stating that you are qualified to teach. Whether or not you qualify is decided by communications graduates who don’t necessarily have a UTQ themselves. It feels as if the triangle player from the Jostiband (a Dutch orchestra for the developmentally disabled) determines whether Klaus Mäkelä is qualified to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The UTQ circus is similar to the way in which you obtain a Dutch driving licence
‘Just come to one of my lectures and see for yourself whether I’m qualified to teach.’ Ha ha – it’s not that simple my friend. You have to work your way through a full training course (costs: EUR 3,000) which requires 160 hours (!!) of your precious time spread out over up to two years. There are four compulsory basic modules (Develop, Supervise, Teach, Assess) which are taught and assessed by driving instructors without a driver’s licence who may reside on the other side of the planet. You have to write a voluminous report (100 pages is no exception) and then take a ‘final exam’. Based on a presentation, your report and an interview, a committee assesses whether you have earned your UTQ. Only then are you qualified to lecture students.
The UTQ circus is similar to the way in which you obtain a Dutch driving licence. You can’t just walk into the CBR (the Dutch authority that issues driving licences) and take a road test. You must first commit to numerous expensive driving lessons after which the driving school will eventually apply for your exam. According to the CBR, obtaining a driving licence costs approximately EUR 2,800, based on the national average of 43 hours of driving lessons, 2.4 theory exams and 1.6 road tests. Compare that to the US, where your mother or your uncle teaches you how to drive, after which you schedule an appointment for the driving test. That takes about half an hour and you receive your driving licence straight away. The total cost is less than 50 bucks.
David Griffiths received his PhD from Harvard University and is the author of excellent textbooks on quantum mechanics, electrodynamics and elementary particles. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Robert A. Millikan Medal for his outstanding contributions to physics education. David Griffiths has a driving licence but no UTQ.
Dap Hartmann is Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Delft Centre for Entrepreneurship (DCE) at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. In a previous life, he was an astronomer and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Together with conductor and composer Reinbert de Leeuw, he wrote a book about modern (classical) music.