Low-scoring Dutch lose free ride

March 10, 2000

Nearly 13,000 Dutch first-year students face either retaking their course or dropping out and repaying their grants.

Under the Netherlands' new university system, the students have failed to gain sufficient study points for the last year. If they resit the year, they must still complete their course within five years.

Since 1996, students must earn the right to continue their studies by collecting study points throughout the academic year. The scheme, which was introduced by former education minister Jo Ritzen, aims to weed out underachievers early on.

The programme is also intended as a means of ensuring that most students complete their degrees within a shorter period of five or six years.

Previously, students could take up to ten years to finish their studies. Now, however, the penalty for Dutch students exceeding the new timeframe is the enforced repayment of their student grant, which, in effect, then becomes a loan.

Students have to gain a minimum of 50 per cent of potential study points to pass their first year. Last year, 12 per cent failed to gain the necessary 21 points. Figures also show an overall rise in the number of first-year dropouts - 6,600 last year compared with 5,800 the year before.

This toughening-up of academic life is part of an overall step towards improving general standards in universities in the Netherlands. Large cuts in government spending mean that higher education is having to become more efficient.

Although some universities fear a return to elitism, others, such as Leiden University, will welcome it. It was the first university to introduce an early assessment system, which resulted in many first-year students failing to reach the second year.

Leiden University chairman Laurens Vredevoogd has long been critical of the Dutch egalitarian approach to education. "Each university gets the same amount, no matter how much they differ, how much they put into education.

"You also get the same grant whether your father is a millionaire or a factory worker. I find it strange that that's the way it is in the Netherlands," Mr Vredevoogd said.

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