Ministry of Education experiment
MAASTRICHT. From next academic year, Dutch universities and schools of higher vocational education may experiment with a higher tuition fees for ‘excellence programmes’. The maximum amount will be €3,812 (twice the official rate). The cabinet wants to find out if students are indeed willing to pay more for a better programme. The experiment is a sensitive matter. Maastricht University has not yet decided whether to participate.
The chairman of the National Student Union (LSVb) refers to it as “education for the elite” and a “divide in education”. The Labour Party (PvdA) fears that students from poorer families will not choose these programmes.
At Maastricht University some of the honours programme co-ordinators have their reservations. Rob de Vries, co-ordinator at Psychology & Neuroscience, thinks it is a bad plan. “We cultivate an elite, by giving better opportunities to people who have more money.” At the end of the first year, the faculty elects the twenty best students. “There are always two or three in that group who are very good, but who do not want to participate, simply because they do not have the time. The ministry underestimates the fact that a great number of students have to work in order to eat.” Then, of the twenty who are selected, there is a very small group that is “really good”, says De Vries. “With average exam scores of 9 or even higher. Why would we have them pay extra for a more challenging programme, while in the US really good students are given scholarships or allowed to study for free? That is strange.”
Theo de Kok, honours programme co-ordinator at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, thinks that “we first have to ask ourselves what we want to gain with the honours programme. Whom are we targeting? Students who are looking for a challenge and for whom the UM wants to make it attractive to come and study in Maastricht? In that case, asking them for such a considerable sum of money is the wrong signal. But for students who deliberately want to invest in themselves, who want to boost their CVs and who have time left, it might work. But we are then talking about a small select group.”
Excellence programmes have been included in the performance agreements with the Ministry of Education; based on this, universities will receive more or less government funding. Maastricht University’s strategic plan states that 10 per cent of all students should participate in excellence programmes by the 2014-2015 academic year. This concerns the faculty honours programmes, University College Maastricht, the Maastricht Science Program and the Marble and Premium projects.
Faculties set up their honours programmes differently, also when it comes to entry criteria and the number of ECTS credits that can be earned differs too. But the Executive Board wants those two matters to be the same everywhere, “so that the value of an additional certificate will be the same for all faculties,” according to the memo ‘Excellence in the performance agreements’, which will be discussed in a University Council committee meeting at the end of the month. For example, students (who are to be considered for an honours programme) must score on average higher than 7.5. Many faculties already work with this principle, but the question is whether it always works well everywhere. “After all, gaining a 7.5 is easier in some programmes than in others,” says excellence co-ordinator Ellen Bastiaens to the Higher Education Press Agency. Besides, one programme assesses differently from another, Theo de Kok adds. “We also work with ‘sufficient’ and ‘good’ for example.”