Students with low-educated parents less likely to enter Honours programmes


There's no such thing as equal opportunity when it comes to honours programmes. Students whose parents had a lower level of education have less chance of being selected. Lower family income also decreases the chances of selection. The Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, finds this unfortunate.

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Honours programmes allow students looking for an extra challenge to take additional courses. That way, they can either look beyond the boundaries of their disciplines or deepen their knowledge in their specific field.

To be selected for an honours programme, students must have higher grades and be able to demonstrate critical thinking, according to a study by Radboud University Nijmegen of a thousand students at three universities (Radboud, Maastricht and Twente) and two universities of applied sciences (HAN and Hanzehogeschool). 

However, the researchers discovered that students whose parents had a lower level of education are admitted to such programmes less frequently. Lower family income also decreases the chance of selection. Even when admitted to an honours programme, the student's bank account plays a crucial role: part-time jobs make it harder to complete it.

Earlier this week, Dutch political party PvdA submitted a list of questions to the Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, to know what she thinks about the situation. Her answers (link in Dutch) were three pronged: although she thinks it's “not right” and students whose parents did not attend post-secondary education "should have an opportunity to develop their talents further", she finds that institutions are working on changing the situation. 

Since 2015, she highlights, many programmes have been paying “more attention to diversity and wider accessibility”, so not only high grades but also motivation and student background form part of admissions requirements.

van Engelshoven therefore concludes that the programmes are on the right track and she doesn't need to take any action right now. Ultimately, it is the prerogative of the institutions to decide how to select students, so there's little the minister can do besided hoping that universities develop sensible policies. "“Each individual institution is responsible for deciding which factors and method of selection it uses.”.

Moreover, a special group of experts is being set up to look at the accessibility of higher education. 

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