“We like to have students that only study sixteen hours a day in stead of twenty-four”. Besides serious debating about standardized testing, diversity within universities and elitism, this years’ Deans Debate set off on a light note. The yearly event took place on November 8 and 9 in Middelburg, at the Roosevelt academy under the Goth vaults of the Eleanor building. Deans from four different University Colleges (Utrecht, Middelburg, Maastricht and Amsterdam) competed for the wildly desired so-called honor.
The debate started with a question about what role standardized testing should play in education offered at the University Colleges. Perceived as being fairer, treating all students in the same way, standardized testing nevertheless does not take relative development into account. The dean of UCM, Harm Hospers, questioned whether universities should mainly strive to turn incoming A students into A+ students. Hospers himself argued that UC’s should rather pursue to push C students to become B’s.
Taking it up a notch, Barbara Oomen, dean of University College Roosevelt, stated that she is generally not in favor of grading, let alone standardized testing. However, as she acknowledged the inescapability of grading – given the demand of Master programs and employers – she emphasized the importance of personal development.
Second year UCU-student Timothy Merkel, attending the debate, later expressed his doubts regarding the rather idealistic statements made. “The assertion that truly motivated students do not need grades rang kind of hollow. What was in my opinion severely lacking in these arguments was the unspoken assumption in the posed questions that being successful academically is something you do in order to get a good job.”
The second question tackled a more fundamental topic. What role should universities take up in warranting for diversity? Perhaps the truly interesting issue that should have been raised first is, what makes for true diversity in the first place? Is it an extensive list of students with different nationalities in their passports, or a rather equal representation of different income levels or socio-economic backgrounds?
It was hinted that a more critical stance should be taken about the tendency to aim for students from, say, developing countries under the guise of diversity. Doing so, we do not consider the chance that these students will then only represent the elite of those countries due to high non-EEU tuition fees. A related concern was brought up: who really benefits from this particular striving for diversity at UC’s? Is it the baker at the corner in Maastricht, as the UCM dean bluntly put it, that will pay taxes for the international influx that will leave as soon as they have their three-year degree? Or is temporary cultural enrichment of the country as such worth the risk of brain drain?
Although no groundbreaking solutions were reached, the debate was still interesting. Despite of the somewhat superficial questions, the answers were at times surprisingly blunt and spot-on. Swirling between idealism and realism, the debate provided food for thought. The different outlooks and views of the deans were exemplary of the variety among University Colleges across the country; united in some areas but differentiated in many.