Twin wins fight for a place

August 21, 1998

A woman who claimed she suffered psychological damage because she was not given a place at the same medical school as her identical twin sister has won a significant victory over the Dutch university admissions board.

A court in Assen, in north-east Netherlands, ruled that the board should allocate a place to 21-year-old Karla Bergervoet, whose twin, Mariska, is a fourth-year medical student at Groningen University.

Ms Bergervoet's application to study medicine had been rejected three years running. She said the board's intransigence had forced her and her sister to separate, which had caused them grave psychological damage.

The application procedure was introduced in the Netherlands in the 1970s to try to give every student an equal chance of getting a place. School-leavers apply to the board, stating three choices of university and degree course. A lottery allocates students a number and a category. The lower the number and the higher the final exam marks, the greater a student's chance of studying his or her chosen subject at the preferred university. However, the random nature of the lottery and the high demand for places means that many young people every year are disqualified simply through drawing too high a number.

In Ms Bergervoet's case, this had led to rejection three years running. In May, when she failed to gain a place for a fourth time, she decided to go to court.

"I had been excluded four times and did not have much more chance of getting in," she said. She explained to the board that she was suffering from stress because of being separated from her twin. The sisters had always worn the same clothes, eaten the same food and shared the same interests. Both women were finding it extremely hard to cope with being apart.

However, the board would not be persuaded to take Ms Bergervoet's exceptional circumstances into account and grant her a place at Groningen.

With the court ruling in her favour, Ms Bergervoet can now begin her course in September, but it is still not definite that she will get a place at Groningen.

The case will draw attention to the inadequacies of the university admission system and may force the board to change how it deals with university applicants.

Although she admits that it was very difficult going to court, Ms Bergervoet feels that the victory is not hers alone. "I'm very glad," she said. "But I'm also very sorry for other people who did not get in."

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