Science - April 1, 2004

Should universities select for admission?

In the news this week, the Netherlands is considering introducing selection for admission to some university programmes. This may be puzzling to those from other countries (like the USA and the UK) where admission is always selective. For most degree programmes in the Netherlands, anyone who meets the criteria has a right to be admitted, but the University of Leiden wants to change this. Wb asked a number of people whether Wageningen University should do the same.

Sebastiaan Meijer, research assistant in Information Technology: “I think selection for admission is a good way of ensuring that those for whom our university is intended keep coming and others are kept out. Wageningen UR should be helping motivated and talented young people to become researchers and innovators. If it’s a job or trade you’re after, you should go to a polytechnic [HBO]. As far as I’m concerned, the trend of university education becoming more school-like is a reaction to the increasing numbers of mediocre applicants. But this is a death knell for the culture of creativity and curiosity that we need for good researchers and innovators. Good university education should be about shaping the thoughts and actions of people under the wings of an alma mater. Put it this way: the university as mentor instead of the ‘a little bit better than an agricultural college’ we have at the moment.”

Dr Rienk Miedema, examiner for Environmental Sciences: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to introduce selection for admission to BSc programmes. Our entrance requirements in Wageningen are based on high-school students having achieved certain grades. If they have done that then they should be admitted. The mediocre high-school students who have made their own choice of study are often the ones who develop well during their time at university. At present foreign MSc applicants are required to have a suitable BSc degree and an average score of higher than seventy percent. Really we should make this the entrance requirement for Dutch students as well.”

Professor Arie Oskam, Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy: “It would be a complete about-turn in Wageningen policy. Nevertheless it’s worth paying attention to the matter now for the future, first at Master’s and PhD level, and later at BSc level. In my opinion, however, the biggest problem is not the quality of the students. The more worrying issues here are the small number of degree courses and the high number of retake exams that are done, rather than the quality of the courses.”

Professor Martin Mulder, Head of Educational Studies: “University entrance exams are un-Dutch and un-Wageningen. We live in a culture of equality, except where sport and culture are concerned, not like in the US and Japan. There, to get to the top university you have to have had the best high school, primary school and pre-school education. The social drawbacks to this selection are obvious: a small percentage of students reach the top, and a large proportion have the feeling that they have failed. Selection for admission and much higher tuition fees for top degrees goes hand in hand with higher salaries and lower tax rates for the highest earners. Surely that’s exactly what we’re trying to get away from?” | G.v.H.