A winner takes it all – and gets kicked out afterwards

06 Nov

How do you “normally” get into a university? You will probably have to pass some sort of a leaving exam (e.g. the British A-Levels or the German Abitur) or do well on standardized exams (e.g. SATs), get a fancy recommendation letter from your teacher and write a well-organized essay. Additionally, you may be required to pass an entrance exam or to come for an interview (see a couple of survival tips here) – and then hopefully, you get a letter with that crucial sentence “..bla bla bla accepted.” However, let´s see what happens if your admission is based on sheer luck.

Welcome to the Netherlands. A country where everything is possible. Unfortunately. A country where it is possible to land in a class of 75 people out of whom 50 got there on completely random basis. Right. One third of the people will be studying at a prestigious university because of their good grades, perfect letters of recommendation and interesting extra-curricular activities and the rest…were just lucky. How is this possible?

The Dutch system (for most, albeit not all (!) courses) works as follows: The university can select a predefined number of applicants in the so-called “decentralized selection” (i.e. based on high school grades, personal statement, etc.) – and the rest of the candidates are divided into four (or perhaps five) groups based on their expected final grades (i.e. the grades the students have not yet attained!). Subsequently, “slots are drawn” and – the formerly unsuccessful! – candidates are randomly (on a lottery basis) selected from these groups in fixed proportions. (Details about the process can be found here.) Fun.

The ramifications are everything but funny. The reality knocks on the door right after the first midterms. Out of those aforementioned 75 students only 7 (!) passed all five midterm examinations. Anybody would like to guess how many of them got to the university thanks to the lottery system…?

It makes me curious. Can anyone think of a reason why would any government require public universities to select the students on a random basis? Clearly, “offering a chance to less talented students” doesn´t work – they will be kicked out after the second semester the latest (due to the Binding Study Advice that requires every freshman to earn at least 60% of the compulsory credits).

Fun fact: On one midterm exam there were points deducted for wrong answers. Fancy guessing who happened to get a negative grade? Actually, got a worse grade than if this person was caught cheating? …

Cynical as I am, I can actually find one reason why this policy is a good idea: When a lot of people drop out the professor has much more time for the truly dedicated learners – which means that you get top education and have a lot one-on-one interaction. (Sure, you can – being equally cynical – point out that it is much more difficult to be among the top 10% of the students once there is only 20 of you…)

At any rate: Does any of you have an idea why would the universities want to keep this system of selecting students? Does it benefit anyone? Please, share your views. I have not been so curious for quite some time.

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Posted by on 6 November, 2011 in Education


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