Excellentie in het Hoger Onderwijs | Excellence in Higher Education

excellence higher education

Research leader:

Huijts, T

Research team: Kim van Broekhoven (ROA), Tim Huijts (ROA), Madelon Jacobs (ROA). This project is conducted jointly with KBA Nijmegen and CHEPS (University of Twente).  

Funded by: Nationaal Regieorgaan Onderwijsonderzoek (NRO; projectnumber 405-15-601)

Duration: December 2015 – November 2019

About the project

This project focuses on excellence programs in higher education in the Netherlands, such as honors education at universities. Compared to other European countries, excellence programs in the Netherlands have developed strongly. Only in the United States there is comparable honors education on a larger scale. Generally, three visions of excellence education can be distinguished:

  • Talent development: the educational institution offers education in which all students can perform optimally, regardless of how talented they are.
  • Excellent education for excellent students: the focus is on students who have demonstrated above-average talent and motivation, and who are offered a special program.
  • Excellence as innovation: motivated students (more or less independent of how talented they are) are given the opportunity to go off the beaten path.

Not only in vision, but also in naming, organization, design, position in relation to regular training and disciplinary orientation, there is a great variety of excellence programs. Despite this variety, excellence programs do face a number of common problems.

One of the problems that excellence programs are struggling with is how they should shape the selection procedures of students. These procedures differ not only between institutions, but also within institutions. Some programs use a number of formal criteria, such as the average study mark. Others look mainly at the motivation, as evidenced by a letter or from conversations. However, little is known about the effectiveness of these selection instruments: does a good match between student and program take place on the basis of this selection? And how can the effectiveness of this selection be improved?

A related problem is that there is little insight into the effects of excellence programs. The research carried out previously shows that graduates of excellence programs achieve a higher final mark and have a more positive assessment of the program. In that sense, excellence programs seem to have added value. However, a problem is that the selected students are a special group. They are more motivated and have more cognitive skills than students who are not in the excellence programs. This means that these students therefore already have more study success. The question is what the separate effect of excellence programs is when we check for these selection effects.

Finally, many institutions strive to make excellence an integral and regular part of the wider educational culture. A central theme here is what the effects of excellence education within a higher education institution are and how the positive effects of excellence education can be more broadly embedded in the organization. Which steering mechanisms can be used? How can the desired elements of excellence education be more broadly embedded through the "learning capacity" and the culture of the institution?

This project aims to address these issues by answering the following main research questions:

  1. How can the selection of candidates for excellence programs be improved and which instruments provide the best match between person and program?
  2. What is the added value of excellence programs?
  3. In which niches of the labor market do employers look for outstanding graduates of excellence programs? Why is this the case and what does this mean for the information and selection of students in excellence programs?
  4. What are the spillover effects of excellence programs on regular education?
  5. Which steering mechanisms can an institution use to apply experiences and innovations from excellence programs in regular programs?

These questions will be addressed in three subprojects. The first subproject (led by KBA Nijmegen) focuses on the question of whether a good match between the supply and the type of student takes place in the selection of students. This involves both the mapping of the selection process and the instruments that are used for this, and the development of (additional) instruments that can improve this match. The second project (led by ROA) focuses on the individual effects of excellence programs. These include the question of whether the introduction of excellence programs leads to higher performance (both cognitive and non-cognitive) and whether this can actually be attributed to the program or to the fact that 'better' students always perform better. The third project (led by CHEPS) focuses on the effects of excellence programs on regular education and how excellence programs can best be embedded in the institution.

The final results of this project are now available in three reports (one on selectivity and effectiveness; one on employability; and one on steering mechanisms), plus one overarching summary report in which the main findings from the three reports are connected. Also, based on the results, we prepared two factsheets (one aimed at students, and one aimed at higher education institutions) to provide key stakeholders with concise information about the implications of the project’s main findings.​

Factsheets (in Dutch):

Reports (in Dutch)

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