‘Selection is too time-consuming’

UU will no longer award VSB fund scholarships

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The UU thinks that the selection process for the scholarships of the VSB fund are too burdensome for its personnel. They say that selection committee teachers and supporting staff spend 300 hours every year on the procedure. That is the reason the university has quit awarding the scholarships to UU graduates that want to study abroad.

Ramon Ellenbroek, the supervisor of the Student Life & Mobility team has said that the time investment required is “disproportionate”. “Every members of the UU staff has been weighted down with the enormous workload. We would therefore prefer to use our time to work on things that pertain directly to our own teaching and research, regardless of how important we think our alumni are and how unfortunate it is that we can no longer proceed with the scholarships.”

The project leader for scholarships at the VSB fund, Annemarijn Boelen, is surprised and disappointed by the decision. “The news was very unexpected and came very late. But it’s mainly unfortunate for the students that had wanted to apply for the scholarships before March 1st next year, and for the coming generations of alumni.”

€8,500 on average
Every year, about 50 to 60 UU-students that have graduated or are about to graduate apply for a VSB fund scholarship that will allow them to study abroad for one or two years. The UU was able to distribute about 10 to 12 scholarships per year. Since 1991, 392 UU-alumni have been awarded the VSB fund.

Except for Wageningen University, all Dutch universities collaborate with the fund. Last year, the fund awarded some 165 scholarships to Dutch university and university of applied sciences students. The scholarship sum is, on average, around 8,500 Euros.

Selection interviews are time-consuming
According to team supervisor Ellenbroek, the UU, together with Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam, had first indicated that the selection process was too burdensome two years ago. Mainly the selection procedure interviews, which all take about 20 minutes, are very time-consuming, these universities think.

A meeting of the three universities with the fund did not yield sufficient results, according to the UU. They therefore decided to quit the collaboration this autumn. They did not make this decision together with the other universities, although Ellenbroek says that these also have doubts about continuing the collaboration.

A nice letter
Project leader Boelen says that accommodations were made to respond to the needs of the three universities. The selection procedure was spread out over a longer period, and online interviews were allowed. The scholarships for research internships were eliminated.

“The only thing we didn’t want to change was the selection interview itself. We think it is an important part of the procedure. Students may write the most beautiful letters, but you can only really ascertain their motivation when you speak to them.”

As 48 education institutes work together, Boelen says that the workload that arises from the 450 selection interviews can be spread out.

The VSB fund project leader says it is strange that the UU has announced it will quit the collaboration without any further announcements. “You would expect to have one last discussion.” Because of that fact, Boelen has written to the university’s Board of Directors. She says she is hopeful that the decision can be reversed.

When DUB spoke to Ellenbroek and Boelen, it became apparent that there is also a lot of uncertainty about what the criteria are that the VSB fund uses for its selection procedure. The UU has said that the fund does not allow emeritus professors to take part in the commission; only ‘active’ scientists are allowed a seat. Annemarijn Boelen, however, has said that that demand was relaxed two years ago.

The university is also operating under the assumption that for every scholarship allocation, a minimum of three selection interviews should take place. That would amount to a total of 30 interviews. However, Boelen says that 25 interviews are sufficient, and that this has been agreed years ago.

Ramon Ellenbroek is unsure about where the disparate interpretations have arisen, but he stresses that these don’t detract from the university’s most important consideration. “At its core, the issue is that we cannot prioritize a selection procedure for students that no longer study at the UU. Therefore, the option to award fewer scholarships was rejected as well.”

University Council has called for a reconciliation
The VSB fund, Boelen says, has not had any signals that the other universities are also considering to quit the collaboration. “We would have loved to see our collaboration with the UU continue. We want to offer an accessible scholarships to all Dutch students. But in the end, the UU must consider whether they find our scholarships worthwhile.”

According to Ellenbroek, rector magnificus Henk Kummeling has responded to the letter of the VSB fund by saying he wants the university to talk to the scholarship organization about the situation again.

The student contingent of the University Council has, in the meantime, urged the university and the VSB fund to “go all out” to reconcile. “If that is unsuccessful this year, a solution should be found next year at the very least”, they write in an email to DUB.

The student representatives think that it important that students who are not part of Honours programs or graduate with honours can still be awarded a scholarship to study abroad. Moreover, the UU also has a responsibility to its alumni, the council members say.