News - July 3, 2014

‘Pity passes went out years ago’

Rob Ramaker

Thirteen percent of all the arts degrees in the Netherlands are not up to standard, it emerged at the end of June. Of all the 207 arts degrees evaluated, 26 were deemed ‘inadequate’.

The failed programmes now have two years to put their house in order, or they will be closed down for good. The final theses are the weakest link, says the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organization NVAO, responsible for the assessments.  Its random sampling threw up work that was academically sub-standard. The question arises whether Wageningen University, too, sometimes gives a six just to enable someone to get their degree. Jan Steen, responsible for educational quality at the Education Institute (OWI), thinks this is almost impossible. ‘Years ago we made clear that “pity passes” were really not on.’ He also points out the positive accreditations of 2012 when most of the programmes evaluated ‘passed with flying colours’. 

Bachelor’s theses

There is a range of measures in place to ensure that students can only graduate on the basis of good work. ‘There are always two markers,’ says Wilko van Loon, programme director at Molecular Life Sciences, ‘and a third reader is brought in if there is a big difference between their grades.’ A standard evaluation form is used too, with a view to reducing subjec-tivity and ensuring that grading by different teachers is comparable. Also, examination committees look at a random selection of thesis to check on their quality. 

The only concern Steen has at the moment is the increasing emphasis the NVAO lays on Bache-lor’s theses. According to him, these are certainly good enough at the WU, but in some cases they only carry 12 ECTS points. ‘It is tricky to evaluate such a small piece of work in terms of final level,’ he says. In order to establish whether Bachelor’s students have reached a good enough standard, ‘you need to bring other things into the evaluation too: portfolios or perhaps the most important exams.’