According to a study conducted by Advalvas, VU University’s journalistic medium, there has been a considerable drop in the quality of the Master’s dissertations produced at the university’s Faculty of Humanities in the last fifteen years.

Are critics of current education policy right when they claim that the quality of Dutch education has dropped? That was the question Advalvas magazine wanted to investigate. To this end, Advalvas had three emeritus professors, none of whom were affiliated with VU University, re-assess nine dissertations each in the fields of history of art, history and English literature.

A nine is no longer a nine

In all, the three retired professors assessed 27 Bachelor’s and Master’s theses from the 1998-2014 period, during which Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were introduced and students were encouraged to complete their degrees more quickly. What these professors did not know was that each of these theses had been awarded a mark of at least 9 out of 10.

This mark contrasted sharply with the professors’ assessments, which all pointed to the same fact: the more recent the thesis, the lower the mark. The average mark for the nine theses written after 2009 was a mere 6.6 out of 10.

“Intellects are not being fully utilised”

“The theses which were investigated belonged to people who are the best in their generation, which may mean that we are no longer fully utilising the most promising intellects,” Lieven Decock, who holds the Education portfolio at the Faculty of Humanities, said in response to the study results.

Whether there will be any consequences remains to be seen, said Michel ter Hark, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. “There is a gap between the marks given by the emeritus professors and the marks given by our own lecturers at the time. However, we regard this as a pilot study rather than as a major investigation. So we will have to wait and see if any steps will have to be taken, and if so, what kind of steps.”