Will you be rounding off your bachelor programme next year? And are you thinking about enrolling in a master programme? Well: there’s a Masters Open Day coming up soon, on 24 November. Especially for you, the folks at EM have sorted out which EUR master programmes you qualify for automatically and which will require you to go through a selection process first.
Students at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) will have to sweat it a bit more. These faculties have adopted additional selection criteria for all their master programmes, or will be doing so as of 2017. They’re allowed to do so thanks to new legislation adopted in 2014. Universities are no longer legally required to automatically admit graduated bachelor students to at least one master programme within their faculty – the so-called doorstroommaster (follow-on master programme).
‘Give closer thought to choice of study’
‘Students give even closer thought to their choice of master programme, since admission is more than just a formality.’
Since 2014, candidates hoping to enrol in any of ESHCC’s master programmes need to submit a list of marks, a letter of motivation and their CV. They also hand in an academic assignment, which is reviewed to assess their writing skills and analytical capacities. The faculty bases its selection of students for the ESHCC master programmes on these documents. In theory, this means that a graduate from a bachelor programme could be turned away from each of ESHCC’s master programmes, and forced to enrol in a master programme in the same field at a different university. However, so far, this has never happened according to the faculty.
Susanne Janssen and Filip Vermeylen – the departmental heads of, respectively, Media & Communication and Arts & Culture Studies – say that these measures have had a positive effect on both the quality of the education programme and the students themselves. “The selection can help students avoid ending up in the wrong place. Students give even closer thought to their choice of study, since admission is more than just a formality. This means that each of the students in our master programmes is highly motivated, which only contributes further to the quality of our education activities.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether a conscious decision inevitably results in a more motivated student. The selected master programme may prove a disappointment, of course. But so far, experiences have been positive, according to Janssen en Vermeylen. “Several of our lecturers have told us that the master students seem more motivated than in the past.”
History student Rose Aitken (22) represents the ESHCC student body in the University Council. While she understands the faculty’s wish to work with selection criteria (“a master programme is hardly a walk in the park”), she believes it should have put more work into informing the students. “Nobody ever told me about these criteria. It was only this year – in the third year of my bachelor programme – that I even became aware they existed. Meaning I wasn’t able to take them into account earlier on in my studies.” Janssen on the other hand believes students were adequately informed about the selection criteria – at any rate those for the Media Studies master programme – via the website, the Course and Examination Regulations and various information sessions.
‘Higher marks thanks to selection’
ESHCC does not set any formal requirements for the candidate’s grade average, incidentally. RSM is a different story. Last year, RSM announced that as of the 2017-2018 academic year, the faculty’s own bachelor students will need to have an average of at least 7.0 upon graduation to be admitted to an RSM master programme.
Previously, only students entering RSM from outside the faculty had to satisfy this requirement. “Over the past few years, we noticed that these students earned far higher marks during the master programme than students who had previously attended a bachelor programme within RSM”, says Anne van de Graaf, until recently director of RSM’s master programmes. “That is why we want to set the same standard for each of the candidates. Requiring students to earn a 7.0 average will improve the overall quality of the degree programme, since it leaves us with those students who are motivated and talented. In addition, we no longer think it is acceptable to have different standards for internal and external candidates – as is still the case at many universities in the Netherlands. As far as we’re concerned, quality is more important than follow-up.”
‘What bothers me most is that before taking this decision, they never asked the students’ views on the matter.’
Although Nadine Nieuwstad (20) has enrolled in the Econometrics pre-master programme, she represents the RSM student body in the University Council since this year. For the most part, she agrees with the faculty’s decision. “As an International Business Administration bachelor student, I’ve also noticed that selection results in more motivated students. And as a student, this also means you make a better effort yourself. What’s more, it isn’t a huge challenge to earn a 7.0 average in an RSM bachelor programme.”
Like Aitken, Nieuwstad is annoyed by the poor way in which the faculty communicated its decisions. “What bothers me most is that before taking this decision, they never asked the students’ views on the matter. It was more like: ‘By the way, starting 2017, you need to have a 7.0 average – keep that in mind.’ For me, as an IBA-student, it really came like a bolt out of the blue, because we actually only started hearing about it after the decision had been made.” The RSM faculty council was consulted however, students in the council advised positively on the matter.
A downside to this new requirement is that it excludes talented students who failed to score a 7.0 average due to extracurricular activities or personal circumstances. Aitken: “I believe that personal development is just as important.” However, the master programme is a full-time pursuit, according to Van de Graaf. “We doubt whether it would be wise for us to accommodate part-time students. Don’t get me wrong: we definitely applaud extracurricular activities – except we hope to encourage students to manage them more responsibly. We prefer students to complete their bachelor programme in four years, spending a year in-between on the board of an association, rather than attending the programme without having their heart in it.”
‘Marks don’t say everything. I know people who are good at sitting for exams, but become completely lost in a discussion that requires them to apply their knowledge.’
There’s a fear that universities and faculties that don’t adopt selection criteria will become dumping grounds for the students with low mark averages. This could possibly lead to universities being played off against each other. According to the guide Keuzegids Masters 2016, over half the academic master programmes have already set up an admissions procedure for all their students. At EUR, 70 percent of the total of 69 master programmes already select between candidates. And this share is even higher at the University of Amsterdam, Wageningen University and Utrecht University: 72, 75 and 84 percent respectively.
Aitken recognises this danger. “I believe it’s quite likely that in the near future, even more faculties – including ESHCC – will be adopting selection criteria based on binding mark averages. After all, this is the yardstick used to appraise top-level universities, and a major faculty like RSM can really set the pace with a measure like this. Although I don’t believe it is justified. Marks don’t say everything. I know people who are good at sitting for exams, but become completely lost in a discussion that requires them to apply their knowledge. And motivation and quality can’t always be quantified either. When people are forced to earn higher marks, this doesn’t necessarily lead to more motivated students, or more participation within the project group. In many cases, students will respond by withdrawing and putting all their focus on exams, and learning ‘tricks’ to get higher marks. There’s too much emphasis on performance in a system like this.”
Nieuwstad wouldn’t welcome the universal adoption of averages as a selection criterion either. “It’s often very difficult to compare marks between the different faculties. For example, it may be harder to earn a 7.0 average at ESE than at RSM. In addition, I wonder why every master programme at RSM needs to work with selection criteria. The Marketing master programme, for example, requires relatively few skills of its students. This programme is more about creativity, which is less easy to quantify. So why would you make a master programme like that less accessible?”
‘The Dutch government will never let things get that far, because it will only give Dutch students another reason to go abroad.’
Aitken concludes: “The way I see it, the faculty should ensure that master programmes remain more accessible by not only selecting candidates on the basis of their average mark, but also looking at their CVs and motivation – the way they currently do at ESHCC. This allows you to also give motivated students who earn slightly lower marks a chance to enrol, so that master programmes aren’t just for the lucky few. I would greatly prefer this situation. Because after all, students haven’t studied for three years within that specific faculty for nothing. They have been specifically prepared for those master programmes – in contrast with outside candidates. Furthermore, if students are forced to go to a different faculty or university against their will, this is hardly good for their motivation either. They will have to get used to a completely different educational environment.”
Some people are less worried about the universal adoption of selection criteria. “If universities start overdoing it, they probably won’t be left with enough students as a source of income,” says History student Roy Sierens (24). Business Administration student Floris Grootenboer (21) agrees. “The Dutch government will never let things get that far, because it will only give Dutch students another reason to go abroad.” Indeed, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, has guaranteed that graduated bachelor students will at any case be able to enrol in one master programme at a Dutch university.
The new measures mean that as an ESHCC or RSM student, you need to make more of an effort to be admitted to one of their master programmes. Nevertheless, RSM still offers an escape route of sorts. Students whose average falls short of the mark can yet be accepted after passing an admission test. Moreover, RSM students who started on their bachelor programme in the 2014-2015 academic year or earlier fall under a transitional arrangement. They can choose to leave their first-year marks out of the tally. “When these students started on their bachelor programme, they couldn’t know that as of 2017, we would be adopting admission requirements for all our master programmes,” explains Van de Graaf.
EUR’s remaining six faculties offer the graduates of their bachelor programmes at least one master programme to enrol in without further restrictions. Still, these faculties have all adopted selection criteria for one or more of their master programmes too.
Would you like to know which master programmes in the 2017-2018 academic year automatically admit you as a graduate from an aligned bachelor programme within the same faculty, and which don’t? Then check out the chart below. This shows that both the institute of Health Policy & Management (iBMG) and the Faculty of Philosophy (FW) also only have one master programme without additional selection criteria. Except for their Research Master programmes, the other four faculties generally don’t have any further restrictions in place for their admissions.
Aitken definitely plans to attend the Mastervoorlichtingsdag on 24 November. “I would like to hear from students in person just how demanding the History of Society master programme is. Do they still have a life besides their study? And I’ll also be looking into the master programmes at RSM. During the information day, I hope to gain a clearer picture of the precise admission requirements that apply to ESHCC students there. I may be required to do a few extra subjects.”