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Cum laude is not the same everywhere

Cum laude is not the same everywhere

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

MAASTRICHT. One cum laude is not the other, a master’s graduate of ‘Arts and Heritage: Policy, Management and Education’ wrote to Observant. She recently graduated with an average of 7.9 and did not receive the cum laude annotation on her diploma. Had she studied at University College Leiden, then a 7.7 average in years two and three would have been sufficient. But would she have received a cum laude annotation with her 7.9 elsewhere in the UM? Observant went to find out.

The labour market is not looking too good for academics, hundreds of applicants for one vacancy is normal. It is a matter of standing out before the selection committee, for example by having the designation ‘cum laude’ on your diploma. And then it is hard, writes the master’s graduate, when you have higher grades but contrary to your fellow students elsewhere you don’t receive cum laude because your faculty applies a high threshold.

There is indeed no national arrangement for the awarding of ‘cum laude’ (with honours), the association of universities VSNU informs us. Worse still, there is no university-wide regulation at Maastricht University, it appeared from a comparison of the rules and guidelines that accompany more than 25 Education and Examination Regulations for bachelor’s and master’s programmes.  Even though most are largely the same: students have to have an average of eight (the research master’s at psychology requires an 8.5) for their modules. At the Faculty of Law a student may not have a single result below seven, for other studies the lower barrier is a six.

The School of Business and Economics recently eased its regulation on this point. Where the batch of students from 2011-2012 needed a seven to make the grade, for the latest group of bachelor’s and master’s students this is a six. An important argument: to be more in line with the rest of the UM.

Furthermore the thesis must be worth at least an eight (for the research master’s of Science in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology, and European Studies and the master’s of Arts and Heritage: Policy, Management and Education, this is even an 8.5), just like for the traineeship and the traineeship report. Participating in the first possible round of exams is a must, resits are not allowed.

An exception to this is University College Maastricht. Students there also have to graduate with an average grade of A (which stands for 8 – 8.5), but having done a resit is not a problem. “Here students put together almost their entire programme themselves. We want them to develop their talents as much as possible, to experiment, find out what they are good at and therefore are fearless in their choices. They have to be able to make mistakes,” says Peter Vermeer, chairman of the Examination Committee. Only to add that the best never or hardly ever need to do a resit. On average, 30 to 40 per cent of all UCM students graduate cum laude. A large group, compared to many other programmes at the UM.

Vermeer:  “UCM selects the first-year students on their secondary school grades, among other things. Research has shown that this is a good indicator for achievements in academic education. Moreover, our students have a tremendous freedom of choice, as a result of which they can do what interests them.” That stimulates too. At any rate, lecturers at UCM do not give higher marks, he emphasises. “We mainly work with lecturers from other faculties. They indicate that they use their own faculty as the standard when giving grades.”

University College Maastricht is a lot stricter than their colleagues in Leiden. Last year a graduate with an average of 6.5 was given the designation cum laude on his diploma by University College Leiden in The Hague. After protests in the Leiden University Council – other UL studies only giving a cum laude for an 8.5 – the regulation was adapted. Now a student has to have an average of at least a 7.7.

While most studies explain their cum laude regulation in a few lines, the UM Faculty of Medicine needs more space. It is indicated for each year what requirements a student must meet in terms of progress tests, block tests, station tests, internships, scientific participation, and the professional behaviour exam. The requirements are strict because for the past two years only two bachelor’s students and one master’s student received the designation cum laude. Very few, thought the programme committee at Medicine. Upon their request the rules will become less rigid in 2014. Astrid Peters, secretary of the examination committee: “Now, for example, you have to get ‘excellent’ for almost all of your third-year bachelor’s blocks. Next year that will be ‘good’.“




Even more cum laude graduates

At Psychology 11 bachelor’s students (4.5 per cent), 21 master’s (8 per cent) and 8 research master’s (13 per cent) received a cum laude in 2013. At Law 9 bachelor’s (3 per cent) and 65 master’s (almost 15 per cent) did so. At the School of Business and Economics approximately 7 per cent of the bachelor’s and approximately 15 per cent of the master’s students graduated with a cum laude in 2013. Higher percentages can be found at the Forensic master’s: 53 per cent ( 9 out of 17). And at the research master’s of European Studies (57 per cent in 2012: 4 out of 7), or the research master’s of Science in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (25 per cent: 3 out of 12).

No uniform regulation

Professor of professional learning Wim Gijselaers is not in favour of a uniform regulation when it comes to cum laude. “You want 5 to 10 per cent of your best students to rise to the surface. Every faculty does that in its own way. I can imagine that medicine attaches great importance to professional behaviour. At the School of Business and Economics, the attitude towards academic work and the grades for quantitative subjects will be more important. What you have to avoid is ‘test tourism’, that is students doing resits until they have a higher grade.” To continue: “But what can you expect with those grades? We have to look for the most motivated student. Our grading culture has gotten ahead of itself.”



2013-12-12: Anja
It is true and problematic that not only the honors system but also the grading itself is so different between the faculties. I cannot regard a honors distinction that is granted to more than half of a year as serious. In fact, that means that even some BELOW average students graduate with honors - not very reasonable.
Of course, UCM has a tough selection procedure prior to accept any students, but shouldn't the honors distinction then only be given out after even higher requirements are met to make those few who receive the honors distinguishable even from their own class of selected-into-UCM-system-students?
And one fact I would like to correct (as a current Master student of Ecnomics) is that students at SBE do still need an average of at least 8 to be eligible and cannot have any grade below 7 and no resit at all if they want to receive the "cum laude". I recently attended a graduation ceremony and I did not find it confirmed that the treshold was lowered to 6 (which would also not make sense to me).
2013-12-12: Riki Janssen
For students who started their bachelor's and master's study before September 2013 the "old"Cum Laude rule applies: no grades below 7. For students who started in September 2013 it's a 6. See the OER 2013/2014.
2014-01-06: Max
Bad enough that the regulations vary greatly between the faculties.
The recent BSc diploma supplement from SBE showed a "grade distribution guidance" table with data from 2010/2011. Around 52% of the grades in that period were worthy of "cum laude". In contrast only 7% graduated cum laude - which is not stated anywhere but in this article.

Where did you get the official proof from SBE that only 7% graduated cum laude?

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