Criteria for PhD candidates must be fairer

Utrecht Young Academy defends cum laude for students

Afbeelding bul met cum laude
Illustration: DUB

Utrecht Young Academy (UYA) is a platform for young researchers at UU. The statement  in favour of the cum laude distinction is a response to the discussion currently going on at the Faculty of Medicine, which is considering following the example of VU Amsterdam’s Faculty of Medicine and stop awarding cum laude diplomas. Some argue that the importance attached to the distinction stresses students out.

However, according to UYA, it’s important for the university to continue to recognise exceptional academic achievements. The young Utrecht-based academics also seize the debate to draw attention to what they see as a more pressing problem: a lack of transparency regarding the awarding of cum laude diplomas to PhD candidates.

Lack of transparency
UYA's President Peter Bijl says that members were surprised that only Bachelor's and Master’s diplomas are being discussed. "But those students know exactly what criteria they have to meet in order to qualify for cum laude." The same cannot be said of PhD candidates. In their case, a reviewing committee decides behind closed doors whether or not their diplomas will feature the distinction. About 3 to 5 per cent of PhD candidates should be allowed to be rewarded in this manner.

According to Bijl, annoyance regarding the lack of transparency in the process is "widespread". In its statement, UYA says: "The closed nature of the process, in combination with the qualitative criteria, gives too much opportunity for political interests or bias, which ultimately undermines the value of the cum laude designation."

Not just scientific
For this reason, UYA is calling for more insightful assessments, using criteria that are as objective as possible. In addition, they say it’s important to look beyond a PhD candidate's purely academic performance. 

UU also wants to reward employees' achievements in 'teamwork' and 'impact', as part of its Recognition & Rewards policy. "This happens among PhD candidates too: some of them excel in this”, Bijl notes.

Tags: cum laude | PhD