The Education Inspectorate sees 'little solid ground for a truly responsible selection' at the gates of higher education.
The Education Inspectorate sees 'little solid ground for a truly responsible selection' at the gates of higher education.

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Inspectorate cracks selection at the gate: study programs do nothing

The Education Inspectorate is concerned about the selection of students for popular courses. There is no agreement on what fair selection should look like, a new report says.

Popular programs select their students at the gate. There is not enough space, so only students who have enough talent and motivation are allowed to start. But how do you pick it out?

“Can a shy student become a good product designer?” Inspector General Alida Oppers asks in her foreword to a new report about selection. "Or is it right that she has less chance of a training place during the selection than her extroverted fellow candidate because she has to demonstrate her motivation in an interview?"

The Education Inspectorate is concerned. “We have seen that select programs often draw up and use their selection procedures with the best intentions,” says Oppers. “But everyone devises those procedures on their own and at their own discretion, and without consensus on what fair and effective selection looks like.”


For example, can you predict the study success of students based on their motivation? One study program thinks so and refers to scientific articles, while the other study program refers to articles that claim the opposite and therefore does not consider motivation.

Shyness is not the only selection problem. Cultural differences and family income sometimes also play a role. And what do you do with the talent of late bloomers who have not yet excelled in secondary school?

In the case of Master's programs in particular, selection is often superfluous, the Inspectorate believes. After all, students must already have the right prior education, or else follow a bridging program in order to acquire certain knowledge and competencies. If master's programs have enough room for new students, they do not have to select further. “The majority of the programs do not select; things are going well there too.”


Every study program should therefore think carefully about the procedures, according to the inspectorate: "Are there no unnecessary hoops that candidates have to jump through?" A multitude of criteria may offer opportunities to look at the candidates in a nuanced way, but the Inspectorate does warn that 'additional thresholds' may deter certain prospective students.

More transparency about the selection methods can also do no harm, just as it helps to share knowledge about this. That may seem like an open door, but the inspectorate wants to kick it in anyway. “It is striking that the study programs surveyed are generally 'introverted'”, the report states. “What happens at other programs and other institutions is usually not a point of attention.”

In addition, the minister should take the reins a bit more firmly, the inspectorate advises. After all, the institutions have the freedom to select students in their own way. Then it is “of great importance that the minister, as guardian of the public interest, directs the entire system”.

The question, for example, is whether every student ends up in the 'right place', and if not: who is to blame? “How far does the responsibility of institutions and study programs extend with regard to reducing inequality of opportunity?”, the Inspectorate raises. “Society has expectations with regard to this assignment and is investing in the system.”

Law enforcement

Selection is sensitive in politics. It is not for nothing that D66, CDA and SP asked the cabinet to investigate the substantiation of selection procedures. The cabinet therefore does not want to respond to the report immediately: “A good response to the Inspectorate's recommendations requires time and attention,” writes Minister Dijkgraaf. That response will follow before the summer, he promises.

The coalition agreement states that selective programs must substantiate their choices. Does their procedure match the programme, is the selection effective and are 'equal opportunities' guaranteed? Dijkgraaf also wants to address this in his response to this report, he writes. “I look forward to discussing this with the MPs afterwards.”

It is not self-evident that the government will limit the options for selection. The largest party in government, the VVD, would rather encourage selection based on talent, and in the House of Representatives the majorities on this theme vary. If you admit more people, can you, for example, apply stricter binding study advice in the first year?

All reason

The Inspectorate does not get involved in the political discussion, but does show a preference for equality of opportunity. “Because perhaps that shy student really does hide a successful product designer,” writes Inspector General Oppers. “If only she gets the chance from Dutch higher education.”

The research gives “every reason for policymakers to take a close look at the desirability of decentralized selection”, she believes. This certainly applies to programs that in principle have enough room for new students. “We saw little solid ground for a really responsible selection there.”


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