To reduce the pressure to perform

UMC Utrecht considers abolishing cum laude

Photo: Wikipedia

What is cum laude?
Students who graduate cum laude get an extra line of text in their diplomas, saying that their performance was outstanding. The distinction is based on high marks but the marks needed to obtain the distinction vary per programme and per institution. Some academic programmes are satisfied with a grade average of 7.5, while others demand an 8 or higher. Opinions also vary when it comes to counting or not counting resits. At UU, multiple rules apply on how to graduate cum laude, which means that it’s easier to graduate cum laude in some faculties than in others. Obtaining a cum laude in Medicine is a pretty hard affair.

Do employers even care about cum laude diplomas?
Good grades to seem to have influence people's salaries somewhat. A cum laude diploma can help you get a slighter better chance at getting higher if you're looking for a job in a competitive field, such as in the limited number of placements for medical specialists. Graduating cum laude may also give you a better chance at a PhD spot.

Why are Medicine programmes against this distinction?
Accorging to the Dutch newspaper Trouw, the university hospitals in Utrecht, Maastricht and Rotterdam are considering abolishing cum laude altogether, following in the footsteps of VU University Amsterdam, as they believe that this system only serves to increase the pressure to perform even more.


Pim den Boon, from the organisation De Geneeskundestudent (The Med Student, Ed.) sees cum laude as a symbol of derailed pressure to perform. “The extremes are immediately visible in Medicine. It all starts at the selection when programmes pick a certain type of student who will fight to perform from the get-go. Combine that with internships that are highly demanding and the uncertainty of subjective evaluations during residencies, and you end up with a pretty tight framework for a student to work with.”

What about cum laude for PhD candidates?
People have been putting that into question too, partially thanks to a study of an unnamed faculty, conducted by the sociologist Thijs Bol from the University of Amsterdam. He discovered that male PhD candidates obtained the cum laude distinction twice as often as women.

"When it comes to PhDs, a small group of scientists will dive into a dissertation, so there is a big difference between a cum laude in a Bachelor's or Master's programme and a cum laude at the doctoral level: There is only a single moment of evaluation. Only five perfect of PhDs obtain the cum laude distinction but the definition of excellence is very subjective. Since this is about a single subjective evaluation, I think it’s better to abolish the distinction altogether.”

What about other study programmes?
The National Student Association (ISO) doesn’t much care for cum laude either. According to Jorgen Blom, member of its board, ISO believes that the learning process should be at the heart of things instead of the performance. In addition, university and faculty councils have been criticising the distinction for a long time, he stresses. “We have to try to mitigate the stress factors for students in all study disciplines, and abolishing cum laude is part of that. As a student, of course you can aim for good grades, but cum laude increases the pressure at a time when we should be trying to get rid of it.”