23 nov 2006 - 14:00
The end of free entry? Can university admission tests and numerus clausus provisions make higher education more cost-efficient and more socially responsible?

Some international surveys suggest that Belgium's universities are particularly unfair: they seem to be very bad at neutralizing the impact of social and family background on academic performance. Yet, compared to universities in other countries, they are not particularly expensive, all things considered. At the same time, they are particularly unselective at the point of admission and characterized by an extraordinarily high failure rate in the first years.

In the light of experience abroad and of theoretical considerations, it has been argued that restricting admission on the basis of standardized secondary school results or of university-organized admission tests could

  • help universities reduce significantly the failure rate and hence make a more efficient use of their resources;
  • help them become less socially selective, whether by channelling some of the resources saved into securing the success of those admitted and thereby inducing more pupils from poorer backgrounds to take the risk of undertaking university studies, or by bringing into sharper relief the unequal performance of secondary schools and thereby motivating and guiding action against educational inequality at earlier stages;
  • strengthen the pupils' incentive to do well at the end of secondary school;
  • provide public authorities with a flexible tool for the regulation of the number of graduates in various disciplines;
  • provide a way of handling the flow of (not so good) foreign students driven away from their home countries by high fees or failed admission tests;
  • prevent the rising of fees, it it were to prove necessary, from being strongly dissuasive, especially among those from poorer backgrounds.

Would the introduction or generalization of restricted access make sense in the Belgian context? Should it be firmly rejected in the name of the democratisation of higher education? Should some version of it be vindicated, on the contrary, precisely on this ground? Or should one be looking for alternative options, such as the introduction of an orientation test, compulsory but not binding, at the end of secondary school?


(click here to download programme)

2 - 3.45 pm : First session

  • Welcome and Introduction on behalf of the University Foundation by Jacques Willems, Chairman of the University Foundation and Philippe Van Parijs (UCL), coordinator of the Ethical Forum
  • Freddy Brackx, UGent: What can we learn from Belgium's experience with the entrance exam in engineering faculties? (document)
  • Alain De Wever, ULB: What can we learn from Belgium's experience with the numerus clausus in medical faculties? (document)
  • Raoul Van Esbroeck, VUB: What can we learn from an admission test experiment at the VUB? (document)
  • Michèle Belot, Essex University: What can we learn from recent experiences in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom? (document)

4.15 - 6.00 pm : Second session

  • Vincent Vandenberghe, UCL: Why is a decentralized admission test a bad idea, whereas centrally determined admission standards may be a good one? (document)
  • Ides Nicaise, KuLeuven: Why is an admission test a bad idea, and a compulsory orientation test a good one? (document)
  • Panel discussion with the speakers, introduced by Jean-Paul Lambert, FUSL (document) and Bea Cantillon, UA
  • General discussion
  • Concluding comments by Philippe Van Parijs, Co-ordinator of the Ethical Forum (document)

Newspapers articles

  • Extra examen moet zesdejaars helpen kiezen(De Standaard) (document)