Student - 13 december 2012

'We' will stay the best for a while yet

It is turning into a December tradition.

The Guide to Higher Education has put this university top for the eighth year running. Why is that, actually? And will we hold onto the lead?
So this means I'm at the best university?
Yes, if you are talking about Bachelor's and Master's degrees - because that is what this independent guide is evaluating. We do well in research too but we're usually outranked by Utrecht and Leiden (according to the Times Higher Education and Shanghai rankings).
Why is that?
We are nice and small with an average of only 55 first-years per degree programme. Staff and students have intensive contact. Compared with other universities, we have a lot of classrooms, lecture rooms and labs, plus a good sports centre. In addition, the so-called Brascamp model gives us a healthy student-teacher ratio. That model is a formula for allocating the funds a university receives: the more students on a course, the more money there is for the teaching staff. We also have intensive course evaluations, including by the students themselves. Each course is assessed every year to see how it could be improved. For instance, repeated criticism from Landscape Architecture students resulted in a theoretical course on project implementation being made much more practical. Now students get to see a road being laid and they learn specifically how to budget for projects.
Students in Amsterdam are simply more critical.
That's what the University of Amsterdam claims. The measurement is indeed partly subjective. The Guide assesses three kinds of information: student evaluations in the National Student Survey, reports by NVAO, the accreditation organization, and objective statistics such as pass rates. Wageningen scores well with students and in accreditation but the pass rates are no higher than average. Perhaps students are more critical elsewhere but why should that be? And why is that not the case for the other cities? After all, Utrecht and Rotterdam do score well. The Guide points out that Amsterdam's argument does not explain why it fell further behind.
But Wageningen scored poorly in the Elsevier magazine special issue.
That is not entirely true. Every single Wageningen degree programme performed excellently in Elsevier's special education issue in September. It was only the university's overall ranking that was disappointing. This is strange, of course, because Elsevier was using the same information as the Guide - the National Student Survey. The suspicion is that Elsevier made a mistake. It is revealing that two months later the Elsevier editorial board have still not come up with a plausible explanation for Wageningen's atrocious score despite repeated requests from Resource. 
What is actually the best degree programme?
If you want the best Bachelor's programme in the Netherlands, you should study Plant Sciences. It jumped this year to 98 out of 100 after years of scoring 90. You will get an excellent education too if you choose Biology or Agricultural & Bioresource Engineering. International Land & Water Management ranks lowest, with 66 points, but even that is more than for similar degrees elsewhere.
Will anyone ever overtake us?
Not for a while. The gap between us and the runners-up has got bigger. We are still just as high at 72 points while Eindhoven has dropped from 66 to 64.5. But our rapid growth may change that. The number of students has grown from 4400 in 2005 to nearly 8000 now. The lack of space in which to study is a cause for concern already. Orion will be finished in September but will fill up immediately. The university can still use rooms at De Dreijen for teaching but when we move out of there in 2015, we may have to resort to holding classes in the evening.

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