Science - March 30, 2006

Only ‘attractive’ students on TV quiz

A new quiz starts on Dutch TV on Monday 3 April, in imitation of the long-running BBC University Challenge. According to the trailers, the three ‘cleverest’ students from Wageningen will compete against students from Leiden University in the broadcast on 22 May. However, the department of communication selected the candidates not on the basis of their knowledge, but their ‘mediagenicity’.

Whereas the BBC quiz features pockmarked nerds who are brilliant at answering esoteric questions, Wageningen seems to be going for personality in defining its academic character. Victory is not what it’s about, as long as a nice show gets recorded. The Wageningen members of the audience will be sporting their No. 1 T-shirts, ‘and the three candidates will score on their presentation’, as Kim Zuijdervliet of the department of Communication put it.

The candidates were first selected on the basis of their study. Only students from Livestock, Nutrition and Health, and Development Studies were invited to the first selection round. ‘Out of the first nine we chose three after doing a screen test in which they had to present themselves and debate,’ said Zuijdervliet. ‘You want your university to come across well on screen of course. The candidates also need to get to know each other so that they come across as a team on TV. And what is clever? I think they are clever.’

The communication department of the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen has also gone for a loose interpretation of ‘clever’. ‘We selected the students from the Nijmegen Honours Programme and from the Max Planck Institute. These are prestigious programmes with highly motivated students who perform better than average,’ told Johan van Hoefstijn. ‘We looked for students that really reflect our university.’

The University of Leiden, in contrast, has followed the British example. The opponents that Wageningen will face during the recordings on 11 May were selected from lists of grades, the number of degree courses they are following, their ability to argue and their score in the Leiden university science quiz. ‘All candidates are likely to graduate with cum laude, and Victor is doing four degrees,’ adds Frank Parlevliet of the communication department in Leiden.
As far as Wageningen candidate Maarten Voors is concerned, so far ‘it’s all been a laugh’. ‘Oh god, a student doing four degrees. Well I’d better get some of those text books out of the cupboard.’ / MV

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