News - February 28, 2011

Not much need to improve Wageningen quality

Universities and universities of applied science will be allowed to be more selective in recruiting students and can refuse them admission to a course. The State Secretary Zijlstra says this is necessary in order to maintain standards in higher education. What will this mean for Wageningen UR?

Habe Zijlstra is singing: "We're singing, we're jumping and we're happy, because there are not any moderate children here!"
In future, everyone who wants to go on to higher education will have to have an individual study-choice interview. It will also become more difficult for students at a university of applied science to move to an academic university, and for students following senior secondary vocational education to move to a university of applied science.
These are some of the plans Zijlstra presented to the Dutch Parliament in early February. His letter was the Cabinet's response to the Veerman committee's report published in April last year. In this report, the former Minister of Agriculture affirmed the importance of quality in higher education. Standards should be improved, said Veerman, even if that means we have to break with the typical Dutch tradition of equality in higher education. The conclusion was that selection on admission is needed, something which has now been taken on board by Zijlstra.
Wageningen students make a conscious choice
Rector magnificus Martin Kropff says this will have fewer consequences for Wageningen UR than you might think at first sight. According to him, the measures are aimed primarily at combating the problems of very popular studies in other cities, such as law and psychology where about a third of the thousand first-years have given up by Christmas. Kropff: 'Students who come to Wageningen are much more likely to choose their degree course because they like the subject. They make a more conscious choice for their degree.'
That is also why a more exclusive programme of study such as that offered by a university college would not suit the Wageningen situation, according to the rector. The State Secretary Zijlstra speaks very favourably in his plans about this form of education, which is being promoted in particular by the generalist universities. However, Kropff sees such initiatives mainly as a catch-up move. For example, they provide talented students with 12 contact hours a week instead of 6, whereas students in Wageningen get 15 to 20 contact hours a week anyway. 'We are actually already leading the way. Teaching is in small groups and we have the highest enrolment/graduation ratio in the Netherlands.'
Compulsory study-choice interviews
However, one of Zijlstra's other plans - the study-choice interview - may well have consequences for Wageningen UR. On paper, the State Secretary wants to make such interviews compulsory for every student who applies for a course. But that would mean a huge workload, as they already know at Garden and Landscape Design in VHL Velp. After two years experimenting with motivation interviews, this degree programme will move to written questionnaires next year. This will be followed by an interview only if the questionnaire responses give cause to do so. The reason is that individual interviews cost considerable time and energy.
That is why the Animal Management degree programme in Leeuwarden holds telephone interviews. That works well and the organization says they get a lot of positive reactions. Last year about half of the applicants got a call, and this year Animal Management actually wants to phone all prospective students.
Pim Brascamp, Director of the Educational Institute, is working on a more sophisticated solution. If it is up to him, interviews will only be held with students who fit a certain risk profile. That is why the university is currently carrying out a thorough analysis of the enrolment/graduation ratios. Brascamp: 'We will then be able to determine risk groups using secondary school subjects, for example, and attendance at open days and 'prospective student' days. You could invite just applicants in the risk groups for a study-choice interview.'
University of applied science first-year diplomas
Finally, State Secretary Zijlstra wants to let the universities choose whether to admit people with a first-year diploma from a university of applied science to a Bachelor's degree programme. But that will have few consequences for the University of Wageningen. As a science university, Wageningen was already able to set additional requirements for students with a university of applied science first-year diploma. For example, most Wageningen degree programmes require maths at pre-university secondary education level. All in all, we can conclude that Zijlstra's quality offensive will not have major repercussions for Wageningen UR.