EXCELLENCE AND DIVERSITY: The Emergence of Selective Admission Policies in Dutch Higher Education - A Case Study on Amsterdam University College
This paper explores the emergence of selective admission policies in Dutch university education. Such policies are being developed to promote excellence in a higher education system that is generally known to be “egalitarian” and increasingly criticized for a lack of differentiation. The changing policy context of admission in Dutch university education and its driving forces and rationales are discussed in the context of European-wide developments such as the Bologna Process. Especially the emergence of selective liberal arts colleges will be presented as a recent excellence initiative. A review of international trends, methods and criteria in selective admission (notably from systems with extensive experience in this field such as the USA), including historical pitfalls, provides an analytical framework for the discussion of the fostering of excellence in combination with the aim for diversity in the student population. The predictive value of selection methods and criteria used at Amsterdam University College (AUC) are evaluated against the study progress and performance of AUC students. This includes academic criteria such as GPA in secondary school, and AUC’s use of interviews. Examining data from AUC’s first entering class in 2009, the college has achieved enrolling students from different national and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is also achieving excellence in terms of study progress and academic performance, including an attrition rate of only 13 percent. The question is whether interviews generate sufficient added value, in particular with regard to the time and costs of this model and with a view to the risk of subjective interpretations of “soft variables” such as student motivation. The answer seems to be that interviews provide extra guidance to both the student and the institution as to whether the student is choosing the right study programme (and not so much as whether he or she is able to complete it successfully). Consequently, the combined model of selection on the basis of prior academic achievement at secondary school (GPA) and personal interviews will be continued. However, specific attention needs to be paid to the fact that the interviewer’s estimate of academic performance seems to be less accurate to predict study success than the actual secondary school GPA (i.e. based on the former more students could have been wrongly rejected than on the basis of the latter).