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Note: The (Hidden) Purpose of Admission

VU International News and Reviews No. 107 February 26 2018

February 2018

We recently see an upsurge of PhD studies focusing on how to select for admission to higher education programmes. The study by Judith Zimmermann in 2016 was recently followed by the study by Sebastiaan Steenman and that by Susan Niessen, in Utrecht and Groningen respectively.

I would like to see research on selective admission using the ‘conflicting hypothesis’ method that prof Ulrich Teichler – Nestor of researchers of higher education internationalisation – has always been so fond of.

In that method, the researcher(s) base that works on two conflicting hypotheses and analyses their data from that double perspective. Working with more than one researcher obviously helps, but even a single scholar should be able to wear such double hats.

The two conflicting hypotheses for HE selective admission could be as follows:

  1. Hypothesis one:
    Education is predominantly seen as a ‘cost category’ in the public sector. Education is not primarily seen (although lip service may be paid to it) as a Human capital investment. The overriding priority in setting up selective admission processes is the minimisation of costs and of risks for the HE provider. Getting “the best” students (without defining “the best” or relating that to the specific programme) and minimizing the risk of false positives is important, as is a limitation of costs to the university. Minimizing false negatives is not so important, nor is the costs to society or to rejected but qualified applicants. Reliance on simple and seemingly objective quantitative indicators like prior academic grades and standardised are preferred.
  2. Hypothesis two:
    Key stakeholders of the programme see education as an investment in social and human capital. The overriding priority in setting up selective admission processes is to achieve the best match between the potential of applicant students and what the educational programme has to offer. Getting the “best fit” (which may take other aspects than successful programme completion into consideration, like lifetime public and private benefits) is important, with balanced attention for minimizing both false positives and false negatives, and costs for programme, applicants and society.
    Preference for a holistic admission process and attention for balanced class composition and reflection of the needs of society and the labour market may be observed.
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