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General information

Here you will find general information regarding the Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management at the VUB.

Programme website

To visit the programme’s website, click on the following links:

Learning outcomes

For more information regarding the learning outcomes of the programme, click here

Numbers

To proceed to the ‘Opleiding in cijfers' (page only available in Dutch) page of the Flemish government, department of Education & Training, click here

QUALITY OF THE PROGRAMME MASTER OF SCIENCE IN MARINE AND LACUSTRINE SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT

This report is based on the results of a quality review which took place on 30 March 2018.  Representatives of the course council were present, including students, and also internal and external peers and experts.

Text approved by the Academic Council on 16 December 2019.

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management (Oceans & Lakes) is jointly organised by the VUB, UGent and UAntwerpen. The two-year programme is an interdisciplinary programme that integrates fundamental science, applied science, governance and policy-making.

Students can choose one of four specialisations – Global Change Impacts on Ecology and Biodiversity, Conservation Biology and Ecosystem Management, Environmental Impact and Remediation or Marine and Lacustrine Geosciences – and all students do an internship. They all perform original research for an MSc thesis. The programme is characterised by hands-on education.

The staff is very devoted and highly approachable. Students get individual support by the course coordinator and the administration and outreach contact person.

‘Oceans & Lakes’ is supported by the VLIR-UOS (Flemish Interuniversity Council – University Development Cooperation) and hence comprises a well elaborated development-oriented curriculum. The International Master Programme (ICP) has an international student group and organises a “Monsoon School” in the South, which brings the theoretical scientific skills into a real-world case study. The programme’s alumni from the professional field co-organize and participate in teaching.

fundamental as well as applied topics are considered so that the graduates are scientists that are aware of policy-making and can contribute in their professional career

Learning outcomes and profiling

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management (also referred to as Oceans & Lakes) is a two-year interuniversity programme, jointly organised by the VUB, UGent and UAntwerpen, that leads to one degree. It is an interdisciplinary programme in which physical, chemical, geological, ecological and social aspects are integrated and aquatic environments in its widest sense are concerned. To bridge the gap between science and society, fundamental science and applications in management, governance and policy are integrated. Fundamental as well as applied topics are considered so that the graduates are scientists that are aware of policy-making and can contribute in their professional career.

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management is an International Master Programme (ICP), which implies that there is a strong trajectory in development and cooperation. The student population is also very diverse, there are 12 scholarships per master year for students from the VLIR-UOS country list (partner countries) granted by this agency. Non-scholarship holders are equally diverse, since many European and non-European scientists enrol.

The learning outcomes are in line with the level descriptors laid down in the Flemish Qualification Framework and Art. ll 141 of the Higher Education Codex. They also contain the five pillars of the VUB Vision on Education and they are in agreement with the three academic partners. The programme-specific learning outcomes coincide with the domain-specific learning outcomes since the programme is unique in Flanders.

the hands-on education is a strength of the programme

Curriculum

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management consists of 120 ECTS-credits. There is a common trunk of core courses (36 ECTS-credits) that is mandatory for all students. The broadening courses (12 ECTS-credits), Governance and Policy in Development and Cooperation Part I and Part II and the internship, are compulsory. In addition, students choose a field course (3 ECTS-credits) and have the opportunity to take the Monsoon School (6 ECTS-credits). Students that do not take the Monsoon School can choose courses from any other master programme offered by Belgian universities upon agreement of the examination commission, or they can attend another summer school. As different bachelor degrees (e.g. biology, chemistry, geology) give access to the MSc programme, students have to choose supporting courses for 9 credits so that shortcomings due to different levels in prior knowledge can be overcome. The master thesis consists of 30 ECTS-credits. The MSc thesis is based on original and individual research on a topic developed in agreement with student and promotor (supervisor). MSc thesis research is tightly connected to the research strengths of the three organising universities. Finally, students choose one major (24 ECTS-credits) out of four. The majors are (1) Global Change Impacts on Ecology and Biodiversity, (2) Conservation Biology and Ecosystem Management, (3) Environmental Impact and Remediation and (4) Marine and Lacustrine Geosciences. Students highly appreciate the possibility to choose a specialisation by means of a major.

The programme attracts students with diverse study-backgrounds (and diverging expectations regarding level and content).  The course council therefore keeps track of the entrance level of students and takes measures to bring every student to the same level.

An up-to-date programme matrix is available. With the aid of this instrument, the course units are linked to the programme-specific learning outcomes, the teaching methods and forms of assessment. The hands-on education (by means of, for example, the field courses) is a strength of the programme. Much attention is also paid to the development of communicative organisational skills. In many courses, students give presentations on which they receive feedback and/or have oral exams. Students learn to give feedback to their fellow students too (peer assessment). Developing skills to prepare and conduct interviews with people from several sectors in society and writing project proposals for existing funding agencies in other countries are also part of the programme.

The course council chose to combine marine and lacustrine (freshwater) environments in one programme because (1) many processes (biological, physical, chemical and geological) and human activities are similar (or parallel) in marine environments and lakes, (2) observation and research tools are similar or even identical for both systems, (3) there is no competing international curriculum and (4) there is substantial expertise in both disciplines available in Flanders. Because of the growing interest in freshwater, the course council has increased attention for the lacustrine environment in the programme.

Admission to Major 4 (Marine and Lacustrine Geosciences) requires an adequate background in the domain of geosciences. Every year students with a geology background choose this major, and the major is highly appreciated. An elective course about geology was added to the programme to give all students the opportunity to acquire basic geological knowledge.

lecturers use a variation of assessment types

Assessment policy

Lecturers use a variation of assessment types. In most courses a combination of assessment types is used. The course council had recently drawn up programme-specific guidelines concerning assessment. All professors are required to give feedback to students and much attention is paid to the detection and prevention of plagiarism through developing a sound academic and scientific attitude.

An information session on the master thesis and the internship is organised. Guidelines and an assessment form for the master thesis and internship are available. The guidelines for the master thesis are discussed (and adapted if appropriate) every year at the course council. The course coordinator and the administration and outreach contact person inform students about their master thesis. The course coordinator also organises a midterm evaluation of the thesis progress.

Student satisfaction

Students assess their education in the student feedback. Below are the results for the last two semesters for which results were available at the time of this report being drawn up.

students of Oceans & Lakes are very satisfied with the training programme

Participation:

2017-2018 semester 2: 25,76% (17/66)
2018-2019 semester 1: 30,14% (22/73)

In view of usual numbers of student feedback at universities, this is a representative sample.

The results of the student feedback show that students of Oceans & Lakes (respondents) are very satisfied with the training programme.

the programme has excellent teaching staff and the programme promotors and other staff are very devoted

Lecturers

As the master is jointly organised by three institutions, the teaching corps consists of staff from the VUB, UGent and UAntwerpen. The programme has excellent teaching staff and the programme promotors and other (supporting) staff are very devoted. The students indicate that the lecturers are usually very approachable.

Staff members are (in majority) from the three universities in Flanders, but international alumni from the professional field play a significant role in the programme; they are involved in the organisation of the Monsoon School and share their knowledge in the course Seminars: Case Studies on Biodiversity Management. Students and lecturers operate in a very international environment, both for teaching and research activities.

the students get individual support

Facilities and study guidance

The students get individual support by the course coordinator and the administration and outreach contact person. They can ask them all kinds of questions and get advice on their individual programme choices. As mentioned above, the coordinator also organises a midterm evaluation of the master thesis progress. Students are very satisfied with the guidance they receive.

The workshops ‘study skills’ and ‘examination skills’ organised by the Study Guidance Centre are programmed in the lesson schedule of the students. 

Working with three universities is challenging: it generates complexity (for example in enrolment procedures), but it also offers the opportunity to get acquainted with various academic environments and the present expertise in Flanders and, most of all, offers a joint diploma of the three renowned institutions in the field of marine and lacustrine sciences.

Enrolment

For the academic years 2015-2016 to 2017-2018, between 50 and 70 students were enrolled in the programme.

Student numbers are increasing. The course council is determined to preserve the interactive and personal teaching style and looks for solutions to cope with the increasing number of students without losing the advantages of a small-scale programme.

Study success

The programme has a high study success rate; from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018 between 84 and 92% of the credits taken by the students were effectively obtained. 86% of the students that graduated in 2017-2018 obtained their diploma within two years. The course council is currently mapping the study load in the programme to see whether a better distribution of the load is feasible.

the programme has a wide and global alumni network

Outflow, alumni and relation to professional field

The number of students that obtained their diploma varied between 14 and 32, in the period from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018 per academic year.

Since 2016-2017, the internship is a compulsory course in the programme (before it was an elective). Internships are mostly done in (national or international) research institutes and NGO’s. Students are in charge of finding an internship position; the search for an internship is part of the exercise to get acquainted with the professional field. Hence, the course council does not simply provide a list with possible internship places but assists students in their search and helps by consulting the alumni network. Alumni can act as contact persons in internship places. There is no period in the programme reserved for the internship, it can be done during holidays or spread during the year.

The programme has a wide and global alumni network and the course council has mapped out the professional profiles of the alumni. The exploration of the alumni network is an ongoing action.

the programme addresses a very international audience

Internationalisation

The Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management is an International Master Programme (ICP), which means that the programme is funded by VLIR-UOS. An ICP’s focus is on a development-oriented approach and mostly and explicitly addresses an international audience. About 20 to 25% of the students in the programme is of Belgian origin. For each MSc year 12 scholarships are awarded to students from the VLIR-UOS country list.

The students can perform their master thesis abroad. The second semester of the second master year is not entirely course-free, but there are fewer mandatory courses that semester. Most students only go abroad for a part of a semester (one or two months) or during the summer holidays to collect samples. All students also perform fieldwork in France, Switzerland and/or Belgium. The course council is currently evaluating the potential for joint majors and credit exchange with programmes abroad.

To strengthen the South-initiatives, the Monsoon school (mandatory for VLIR-UOS scholarship students, optional for other students) was introduced in the programme in 2017-2018. The Monsoon school consists of workshops and practical sessions, in which alumni are involved as speakers and trainers. The Monsoon school is organised in Zanzibar in 2019 (other partner countries may be future destinations). It is funded for VLIR-UOS scholarship students. Non-scholarship holders contribute for their expenses at the Monsoon School, but are offered the same training opportunities. Alternatively, they can choose 6 ECTS-credits from any other master programme offered by Belgian universities or attend another summer school instead, upon agreement of the examination commission.

Peer training is a strength of the programme. Because students have diverse backgrounds, there is a huge potential of peer training which is also developed constantly. This knowledge exchange happens in courses and in an informal way. However, the course council plans to embed internationalisation@home activities structurally in the programme.

Since the programme is organised by three universities, students travel between the three institutions. This is mostly the case in the first MSc year, though the coordinators avoid that students have to travel to two universities in one day. The majors are based on the expertise within universities, so in the second master year students mostly remain in either one of the partner institutions.

Communication

The course council has elaborated the information about the majors on the website so that students can make a well-informed choice. Students are also guided in their choice for the majors by the course coordinator.

the staff is very open to students’ suggestions

Course Council

The course council promotes and safeguards the quality of the programme. The course council draws up the vision and formulates proposals about the content, the format, the cohesion and the feasibility of the programme, to name but a few subjects.

The interuniversity course council consists of professors / lecturers from the three participating universities, amongst which the chairperson of the examination committee, the course coordinator, students, alumni (from the working field) and the administration and outreach contact person. The chairpersonship of the course council rotates per academic year between the three promotors of the programme. Meetings of the course council are prepared by the Interuniversity Steering Committee, which consists of several (but fewer) lecturers from the three participating universities, amongst which the chairperson of the examination committee, the course coordinator and the administration and outreach contact person. At the beginning of every academic year, all lecturers are invited to a lecturers meeting.

The students have numerous opportunities to contribute to the quality of the programme, either directly or through representatives in various councils and committees. Since the staff is very open to suggestions and comments a direct dialogue develops. Additionally, a formal and anonymous course evaluation is organised (online). The course coordinators try to motivate the students to participate in the student feedback.