The advanced bachelor / master elephant

Hello everyone! I bring you, from my attic room: a Monday morning thread on (further) education. The reason is this article by @MauriceLimmen what on @ScienceguideNL stood. 1 / x

– Janos Betko (@janosbetko) July 4, 2022

I made a Twitter thread for the first time in ages. The reason is this article by Maurice Limmen, chairman of the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. Those who want to read it in its original form can click above, here is a more prosaic version. The glue article broadly discusses the distinction between wo / hbo, and that although (too) many students equally choose wo, and hbo shrinks in some places, which has harmful consequences.

Why I want to say something about this is because, as much as it makes sense, this article cleverly avoids an elephant when it comes to distinguishing between university and college. And I want to talk about that elephant: youth education.

We go back to before the introduction of the bachelor / master system, right after the turn of the millennium. It was pretty straightforward back then. A higher professional education lasted 4 years, a university education 4, 5 or 6 years. You could go on HBO there after HAVO, and university after VWO. VWO was (much) harder than HAVO and lasted a year longer. The university was more difficult (the level was ‘higher’). Although I do not like the normative ‘higher / lower’ story, I use the terms here for the sake of clarity.

Then came the bachelor / master. Since then, universities and HBO have (partially) graduated to the same level: bachelor level. At the universities, the educations that (usually) educate students for a doctorate were cut into two pieces: three years for a bachelor’s education, and the remaining 1, 2 or 3 years (depending on the education) for a master’s education. HBO courses all became bachelor’s programs, and gradually (1-year) HBO masters were added. The story behind it: the level is the same, only the orientation is different. University bachelors and graduates are scientifically oriented, and HBO bachelors and graduates are academically oriented.

Now it is theoretically possible in itself, but I already gave hints, it will of course be very difficult if nothing changes in the youth educations. Because there you still have a vwo and a havo. The first is much harder. I have no idea what it’s like now, but in my time at the end of vwo 4 we practiced with the last exams in HAVO 5 from previous years (and so were the exams). Assuming it hasn’t changed much since then: it shows a pretty big difference.

If the final level of HAVO has already been reached in a number of subjects after 4 years, and then another 2 years of education follows, which goes a few steps deeper, then there is of course a huge gap between what a HAVO student can and what a VWO students know. At the end of the day. And that can not be remedied in the one extra year that an HBO has for the bachelor, compared to WO. This is equal to years of training, but does nothing to make VWO so much harder / heavier than HAVO. Unless anyone is volunteering to come up with a pretty template? Well, at least I did not go down without explaining myself first. I do not believe that.

So: fine if you want to make HBO more attractive. If you want very wise people without scientific ambition to choose a higher vocational education. There is a lot to say to that. But I do not think it will work with the current youth education system.

But: high school students are not retarded either. You can tell them 100 times that wo and hbo really have the same high level, but as long as you can only go to uni with your vwo and not to havo, and with your havo diploma you can go to hbo, there is no one there think that. And uni therefore remains ‘the highest’. And ambitious students want to go to university, and probably even more importantly: the parents of (ambitious or not) students want them to go to university.

The question then is whether we should all consider this so important to turn the entire youth education upside down. For a long time we have been quite critical of system changes in the field of education.

And of course, it costs a lot of time and money. But the other side is: at the moment it just does not connect: the “story” that we hold about higher education and how it is arranged on paper (no level difference between HBO and WO) is incompatible, if one is very honest with our HAVO / VWO system (even if there is a level difference). Whether we need to do something about it, and what about 20 years after the introduction of bachelor’s / master’s programs, that’s what it’s about.

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