Organisation - October 2, 2012

Are students unhappy with Wageningen?

A surprise awaits readers of the annual special edition on education in the weekly magazine Elsevier. Often regarded by students as the best, Wageningen University suddenly finds itself among the worst. What is the matter? We decided to investigate.

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Why among the lowest?
Elsevier publishes tables showing student ratings of Bachelor's and Master's programmes in its education special. There is also a general ranking list of the best universities according to students. The specialist universities are placed in a separate category, under which Wageningen has a disappointing placing of third among four universities.
What is the significance of this?
If you look at the individual scores of the programmes, a totally different picture emerges. While the Dutch average lies at about 65, Wageningen programmes score an average of 78 (Bachelor's) and 75 (Master's) respectively. Many of its programmes cannot be compared to others within the Netherlands, while those which face competition from other programmes always make it to the first place.
What?
This was also our response when we phoned the editor in Elsevier to say that the sanity check shows that this figure is mistaken. But Elsevier insists that its calculations are correct. Its editor explains: the general category does not give the total of the underlying tables, but is based on a separate question in the survey, that being: how satisfied are you with your programme?
So it's thumbs up if you ask Wageningen students about facilities, education, lecturers, exams and organization. But if you ask how satisfied they are, it's thumbs down?
This roughly sums up what Elsevier wants us to believe.
Isn't there a problem with the survey in that case?
That's questionable. Elsevier uses statistics from the National Student Survey, the same ones used by the Keuzegids Hoger Onderwijs (higher education evaluation guide) and Studiekeuze123.
What does the university think about this?
Spokesperson Simon Vink seems somewhat resigned to it. After all, it is a fact that the disciplines in Wageningen cannot be easily compared with others, he says. 'You can see that Elsevier has a hard time each year.' A discussion with the editor some time ago did little to improve the situation. Thinking aloud: 'Perhaps it would help to send them a letter.' An idea which he drops immediately. 'Oh well, everyone buys this issue off the shelves, so what is the point of a letter which appears two issues later?'
Elsevier also publishes a ranking with the ratings from professors; how do we fare in that?
Wageningen is not included in that list this time because - here we go again - the programmes are difficult to compare with others in the country. A logical decision, it seems.

Any more surprises?

Sure. Agrotechnology was regarded as the best programme in the Netherlands a couple of years ago with an incredible score of 98 points. But this has fallen to 81 points this year. Not a bad score actually, but the earlier success makes this disappointing of course. The best rated Bachelor's programme currently is Plant Sciences (85). The top Master's programme is International Land and Water Management (85).

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