UG won’t do away with honours just yet, in spite of work stress

For now, the UG will hold on to the option to graduate with honours. The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) has decided to do away with it for the master of medical sciences starting next academic year.

‘This is a discussion we’ve been having here for years’, says Hila Helma, student-assessor at the Faculty of Medical Sciences (FMS). ‘The honours arrangement leads to work stress and pressure to perform among students.’

She’d prefer if the arrangement was cancelled, ‘but that would have to be a very careful decision’.


During their master, students mainly do internships, for which they used to receive a mark. ‘But marks simply aren’t reliable when it comes to practical assessments’, VU educational director Hester Daelmans was recently quoted as saying in professional journal Medisch Contact.

Every internship supervisor has a different assessment style, she said. A student receiving a high mark ‘wouldn’t mean anything’.


But Groningen has already taken care of that issue, says Gerda Croiset, pro-dean of education at FMS (and former programme director at the VU). FMS no longer gives marks for internships. Instead, students receive a judgement: insufficient, good, or excellent.

Only a few students who show entrustable professional activity, ‘who are simply really good’, receive that highest judgement, says Croiset. This amounts to 3 percent a year. ‘They’re people who really stick out above the rest, who have great overview and can act independently.’ The judgement does need to be thoroughly substantiated in the assessment document.

Not a holy grail

But the discussion isn’t over yet. A majority of the Intercity Student Consultation is in favour of doing away with the honours arrangement, according to board member Gijsbert van Elven. He’s happy with the news about Amsterdam.

‘It’s not a holy grail. It’s a step in the right direction, but the pressure to perform in higher education needs a lot more work.’

Croiset can’t rule out that the honours arrangement might end up getting cancelled in Groningen. But she does value that students have the option to showcase their excellence. ‘It’s part of the whole thing, really.’


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