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General information

Here you will find general information regarding the Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy programme at the VUB.

Programme website

To visit the programme’s website, click here

Learning outcomes

For more information regarding the learning outcomes of the Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy, 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 BACHELOR OF SCIENCE IN PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY

In the Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy, students acquire general and specific knowledge about physics and other areas of science and are trained in experimenting, computer and communication skills. In the English-language Master of Science in Physics and Astronomy, students can further deepen their knowledge through minors in Research, Economy and Business, or Education. The programme offers ample choice, and mobility both in Belgium and abroad is stimulated.

Based on lectures and excursions, students get to know the professional field from as early as the first bachelor year. An excursion to the CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is also organised. Lecturers experiment with innovative teaching methods and respond to the current situation and students' interests. Moreover, students are involved in an authentic learning environment by being given the opportunity of collaborating in the research groups.

Lecturers are very approachable and personal guidance is one of the programme's great assets. The course council is also quick to respond to signals from students.

There is a commitment to form reasonably steadfast, critical-thinking personalities that can be deployed at various places in our society

Learning outcomes and profiling

In the bachelor programme of Physics and Astronomy, students acquire not only a thorough mathematical basis and insight into underlying theories and models, but also up-to-date experimenting skills, computer techniques and communication skills, verbal and written. In the master programme, students deepen this knowledge and expand these skills in their chosen discipline of research, economy and business or education (up to and including 2018-2019) by selecting a minor. The minor Research is closely linked to the lecturers' own research specialisations. Almost all master students are integrated into one of the research groups and actually work on current research.  The small scale of the programme enables the use of activating teaching methods and an individual study follow-up. There is a commitment to form reasonably steadfast, critical-thinking personalities that can be deployed at various places in our society.

The course council aims to provide the students with a broad and general scientific basis and offering an ample selection of elective course units is one part of that.  Student mobility, such as following classes outside the VUB or internships, is stimulated by the fact that mobility courses are compulsory in the minor Research. This allows students to accumulate broad experience, also internationally, and get to know the professional field.

The current demands of the domain and the job market are reflected in the learning outcomes. The programme-specific learning outcomes are in line with the level descriptors laid down in the Flemish Qualifications Framework and Art. ll 141 of the Higher Education Codex. They are also in line with the VUB's vision on education and the domain-specific learning outcomes. The learning outcomes of the master programme are the same as those of Ghent University, since the Research minor of the master programme is jointly organised with Ghent University.

lecturers experiment with innovative teaching methods and they address current events

Curriculum

The Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astronomy consists of 144 compulsory ECTS credits and 36 ECTS credits to be gained from elective courses. The focus in the first bachelor year is mainly on the development of a broad basic knowledge of general physics and a thorough basis in mathematics.  The course Seminar on Current Science and Society gives students an opportunity to get to know what the job market has to offer. In the second and third bachelors, the basic knowledge of general physics is deepened, and students also have classes in modern physics. In the bachelor project, they get acquainted with real research. Students can expand or deepen their knowledge in a discipline of their choice, through the elective courses. They can also proceed their study career in related disciplines such as the Master of Science in Photonics.

The Master of Science in Physics and Astronomy is organised in English since 2015-2016 and consists of 120 ECTS credits. Students can choose between three minors: Research, Economy and Business or Education (the latter will be offered up to and including 2018-2019. From 2019-2020 onwards, students interested in this minor can take the Master in Education). The minor Research is organised jointly with Ghent University, enabling a broad selection of deepening or broadening elective courses. Due to the significant link with the research specialisations of both institutes (including Theory of General Relativity, High-energy Astrophysics, Quantum Field Theory, Advanced Particle Physics, Computational Physics, Astroparticle Physics, Cosmology, Nanophysics and Spectroscopy of materials) the programme is strongly research-related; master students are directly involved in current and innovative research (including that which is in the context of the master thesis) and lecturers are able to respond to up-to-date discoveries.

Within the programme, lecturers experiment with innovative teaching methods. For example, in the first bachelor year, the way in which students should prepare themselves for practical experiments variates (instead of only working from a text book, YouTube films are also used) and students must present the assignments to their fellow students. In addition, work in a number of courses is project-based, current events are addressed (for example, students analyse data from a NASA satellite) and links are made to other disciplines such as contemporary research within biology. In the very theoretical courses, effort is made to respond to students' interests: a section on dark matter was introduced in the first bachelor year course, Mechanics, for example, to give students the opportunity of exploring modern physics early on in the programme.

There is a programme matrix for both the bachelor and the master programmes. 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 bachelor programme is interconnected with other programmes, so some courses are set up jointly for various programmes. Physics students take mathematics courses together with students of engineering sciences. Seminars, on the other hand, are designed separately and specifically for physics students. The connection of mathematics education with the physics courses requires a close follow-up. Students indicate that they gain more insight into the relation between the courses as they get further on in the programme.

Students feel that they are assessed fairly and objectively

Assessment policy

Students feel that they are assessed fairly and objectively. Most courses make use of a combination of a written and an oral evaluation. This combination benefits the students, since the oral exam gives them the chance to catch up, should that be necessary. Students value the format of the oral exam, in which they also receive feedback on their performance.

The course council believes that it is important that students are able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, so students give oral presentations and write laboratory reports from the first bachelor year onwards. They receive feedback on these performances too, and on tasks and any extra exercises they carry out. A form of peer learning is used in a number of courses, in which students put questions to each other.

There are guidelines and an assessment form for the theses of both the bachelor and the master and one for the internship. There are also programme-specific guidelines regarding evaluating.

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.

Bachelor Physics and Astronomy

 

Participation:

2017-2018 semester 1: 24% (17/71)

2017-2018 semester 2: 17% (12/72)

The results of the student feedback show that students of Physics and Astronomy are satisfied with the education.

No results were available for the Master of Science in Physics and Astronomy because the participation rate was too low.

The lecturers are enthusiastic, of outstanding quality and held in high regard, internationally

Lecturers

In 2015-2016, the teaching capacity deployed was 6.7 FTE for the combined programmes of Bachelor and Master of Physics and Astronomy. Lesson observations were introduced to support assistants, using an observation tool and a follow-up interview. Assistants are encouraged to take part in professionalisation activities such as the assistant training. New lecturers are encouraged by the course council to take part in the professionalisation pathway for starting lecturers. An occasional training is also organised specifically for the course council. Student feedback is discussed at the course council and plays a part in the assessment of applications for promotion. Since late 2015, Independent Academic Staff must meet the requirements described in the competence test.

The lecturers are enthusiastic, of outstanding quality and held in high regard, internationally.   However, the Independent Academic Staff framework is limited, so staff have a heavy teaching load. The course council does make sure that the teaching load is accumulated gradually to allow younger members of Independent Academic Staff to spend enough time on research.

Students value the guidance offered by the lecturers and Study Guidance

Facilities and study guidance

Study guidance is a focal point both at central and programme levels. Various guidance activities are organised. The bridging course smooths the transition from secondary education to the university and the preparatory mathematics exam that students have to sit when entering the first bachelor year gives them a good idea of the feasibility of the study. There is an interim evaluation for mathematics, physics and chemistry in the first bachelor year, after which Study Guidance arranges individual interviews with all students. Academic progress interviews are also conducted with the students following the first exam period. In addition, Study Guidance organises profession-related guidance in a number of courses, and students can ask tutors for assistance. The lecturers also give the students almost individual guidance. This approachability makes it easy for students to put questions to lecturers and assistants. Students value the guidance offered by the lecturers and Study Guidance.

Enrolment

Enrolment in the programmes is limited. However, enrolment into physics, mathematics and chemistry programmes is low throughout Flanders. An increase in enrolments in the Bachelor of Physics and Astronomy has been noted, but because currently more students with less of a background in mathematics are enrolling, it is not necessarily the case that more students are completing the programme.

Secondary school teachers play a major role in which study pupils choose. This is why the course council is collaborating with Nikhef (Dutch Institute for Subatomic Physics) in the Netherlands to encourage secondary school teaching staff to participate in the teachers' programme at CERN. A similar programme is not available in Flanders and Belgium. In addition, the VUB takes part in the CERN physics master classes, an initiative in which fifth and sixth-year secondary school pupils first attend a talk given by working scientists and are then given a chance to work with data measured in the CMS experiment that is being carried out in the CERN. The course council also annually organises the IceCube (South Pole Neutrino Observatory) master classes in which, in addition to introductory presentations, an analysis of IceCube data is also carried out.

All international students who wish to enter the master programme are personally screened by the course council. Around 10 - 15% of the students applying will be admitted to the programme. The English-language programme has not previously been advertised. The course council will start recruiting more actively from academic year 2018-2019: posters and brochures will be printed, and the council will collaborate with the central services involved in international recruitment. The council is committed to this international inflow and believes that this will increase when recruiting starts to take place through the research networks of the lecturers.

Study success

In academic year 2015-2016, the study success rate of bachelor students was 71.9% and of master students, 86.5%. Although the completion time is better than the VUB average, the drop-out rate for the bachelor programme is higher than that of other VUB bachelor programmes. The drop-out rate does fall to a similar level after the first bachelor year. The course council intends to ease the first semester of the first bachelor year, and optimise the class and exam timetables, in an effort to reduce the drop-out rate in the programme. The course council is also providing a number of guidance activities, together with Study Guidance, with a view to improving the study success.

graduates can start work in any branch of research and in the business world

Outflow, alumni and relation to professional field

The course council sets great store by the contribution made by representatives from the professional field. An advisory board, consisting of representatives from the programme and from the professional field, meets annually.

Students can do an internship. The course Seminar on Current Science and Society, which is a compulsory course in the first bachelor year, contains talks by experts and excursions. This enables students to get to know the professional field, which can in turn affect the choices they make in their study and career. One of the compulsory courses also includes a visit to CERN every two years.

In academic year 2015-2016, 7 students obtained their bachelor’s degree and 4 obtained their master's. Thanks to the analytical and mathematical insights that they have gained, graduates can start work in any branch of research and in the business world. The course council put together a leaflet to inform students about the possibilities: 100 professions for mathematicians and physicists. Most of the graduates work as researchers, whether for a company or otherwise. Many alumni go on to gain a PhD after their studies.

Internationalisation

At least one course unit of the bachelor programme is English language. Language classes are also offered through elective course units. In the context of the course Seminar on Current Science and Society, students attend talks including one at the international Solvay Institutes in Brussels.

The course council organises an English-language master programme since 2015-2016. The course units External Mobility A and B provide the opportunity of taking classes at other universities or doing an internship at home or abroad, enabling students to acquire (international) experience, also in the professional field. The course council has arranged for the second semester of the third bachelor year to be more or less free of compulsory courses, in order to facilitate student exchanges (Erasmus+).

Students can easily approach lecturers

Communication

Students can easily approach lecturers with any questions they may have. In addition to formal activities, there are also informal opportunities for exchanging information. For example, there is a camp fire every year, aimed at bringing first year students together with their peers from higher years. The camp fire is organised by the students themselves and funded by the department council.

The course council has posted a number of standard learning paths on the website, to help students decide on their studies. The course council is planning to better inform bachelor students about elective course units and minors.

The course council responds quickly to signs and has a clear long-term vision

Course Council

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

There is a joint course council for the bachelor and the master programme. The course council members include lecturers, assistants, students, a staff member from the secretariat and an alumna. They meet almost every month. The course council responds quickly to signs it receives from the students and other sources and has a clear long-term vision. The course council also receives reports from the advisory board, that meets annually. The course council is augmented by a curriculum board in which concrete matters regarding the curriculum are discussed. In addition to the permanent members, other lecturers can be invited to join in, depending on needs.

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This report is based on the results of a quality review which took place on 27 October 2017.  Representatives of the course council were present, including students, and also internal and external peers and experts.

Text approved by the Academic Council on 11 March 2019.