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How to abolish a numerus fixus

How to abolish a numerus fixus

Photographer:Fotograaf: David Brossard

MAASTRICHT. The numerus fixus for the study programme of Economics and Business Economics has never been reached. So, let’s get rid of it, says the SBE Faculty Board. The students think this a bad idea. The restriction works as a mark of quality and that scares off unmotivated students. In the Faculty Council meeting, the students unanimously voted the proposal down. In the meantime, it has become clear that the Faculty Council has no say in the matter, and maybe the University Council doesn't either.

The numerus fixus for Economics and Business Economics (EBE) was introduced in 2010 to prevent students who hadn't been admitted to the popular programme of International Business (which also has a restriction), all turning to EBE. However, this never happened; the upper limit of 450 students has never been reached.

It was a “phantom fixus,” says dean Philip Vergauwen. The programme has acquired an unintended elitist character and what is more, students must enrol before 15 January. “That is crazy for many foreign students; it means that you can forget about certain groups, such as the Belgians, because they are used to looking at potential study programmes in spring. The Germans will come anyway, although one doesn't get a reflection of the various social environments, but mainly students from well-to-do circles. We want to be a school that focuses on quality, that is open to as many highly motivated students as possible. Not an elite school.”

It surprised Vergauwen how fiercely the faculty’s own students reacted in the Faculty Council to the proposal for the abolishing of the numerus fixus. “I assumed that they would appreciate the greater accessibility of the programme, but I underestimated their emotional arguments. A numerus fixus actually gives an exclusive air to the study: prospective students dislike it, but once they are studying here, they cherish it, also because it can be useful later on in job interviews. An argument that I actually find realistic, not one I reject.”

Foreign students in particular appreciate the exclusivity, suspects Jeroen Moonemans, student member of the Faculty Board and member of the student council. “Especially Germans regard the numerus fixus as a sign of an exclusive programme. The Dutch know by now that the enrolment limitations have to do with capacity problems.”

The SBE students are mostly worried about the quality of education, says Moonemans. “The restriction has the effect of a mark of quality and discourages potential students who are not motivated. You actually have to go through a procedure, in which your CV, letter of motivation, and secondary-school grades play a role.”

Vergauwen: “If it turns out that we have made a mistake and see many more enrolments, then there is still no problem: we will continue to select on the basis of the ‘international classroom’ and believe that in doing so, we will guarantee the quality. This is a new criterion, which we can use to make the student population more international.” It could actually mean that a motivated Romanian who fits in well with the international PBL education system is given preference over a German student with high grades.

That type of selection was possible last year as well, says Moonemans. “But not a single student was turned away on the basis of that criterion. So, we have the impression that this was insufficiently thought through, that you at any rate need more time to prepare for the abolishing of an intake restriction. We also feel that prospective students should be clearly informed, again to scare off unmotivated students. In the last Faculty Council meeting, the board agreed to this and will mention the selection process during open days. We are now in a more positive mood about the plans and will meet to discuss them in the coming days.”

In the meantime, the Executive Board has entered the scene, wondering if the Faculty Council actually had a right to vote on the abolishing of numerus fixus. This turned out not to be the case, the legal affairs department concluded recently. They are now investigating whether even the University Council, which has a say in the introduction of restrictions, has anything to say about abolishing them.

As it is, the matter is on the agenda of next week's University Council meeting.

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