When issues are politically sensitive, people become creative with words. I recently found out that in Dutch universities, sensitivity concerning Master’s admission is leading to a play-of-words with “selection”. When there is a process to determine if students meet the requirements, we don’t call that “selection”, but “testing for the requirements”. “Selection”as a word is reserved for the process in which only “the best” of those who meet the requirements are admitted. In the Mastermind Europe project, we see this as two variations of selection: selection by absolute standards (“all those qualified”) and selection by relative standards (“of those qualified, only the best”).
But the political sensitivity really lies with how you defined “the best” or rather “the best fitted”. Is highest marks in subject knowledge or academic skills “the best” for all kinds of programmes? What about “the best” in terms of expected added value through the learning process: those who will profit most? Or “the best” in later contribution to society – maybe hard to measure? Or maybe “the best” in contribution to a diverse classroom, one that mirrors the society from which students come and into which graduates return?
I sympathise with critics of relative selection of only the best where a clear definition and motivation for it is lacking. But I equally sympathise with those who uphold relative selection on solid and well-argued grounds.
Let’s be selective with “selective” admission; let’s be non-selective in our justification for the kind of selection we choose for a particular Master’s programme.