The excellence education currently offered to highly motived students at Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences in the form of additional courses, has proven to be a great testing ground for educational renewal. This is mainly due to lecturers who teach both standard and excellence programmes. Excellence education often takes the form of honours programmes. The effects of these honours programmes on the knowledge and skills of students are far less visible. Universities and universities of applied sciences could increase the effects of these excellence programmes by properly embedding this type of education in the organisation.
The above are the results of a study conducted by the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente, ROA at Maastricht University and KBA Nijmegen in the context of the research programme ‘Excellence” of the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO)’. As part of this programme, tests, questionnaires and interviews were used to study the effects of participation in honours programmes on critical thinking skills, creativity, leadership and the political involvement of students. The study also focused on the method of the selection of students for honours programmes and whether there are any positive impacts of excellence education on the entire institution.
Even at institutions that do not consider honours programmes a testing ground, the study found that lecturers at these institutions still use them as such. For example, lecturers experiment with concepts such as student-driven learning and flipped classroom, with various forms of assessment, multidisciplinary education or students’ personal development plans. Chances improve that innovations also have a positive effect on mainstream education if honours programmes fit better with the culture and the organisation of the entire range of programmes offered by the institution. , The study shows that much can be gained from involving in the honours programmes the educational services that many institutions have.
The study found that direct effects of participation in honours programmes on skills such as critical thinking, creativity and personality traits such as leadership are not immediately visible. This could be due to the fact that institutions select students who already possess these skills and personality traits for honours programmes. It may also be that honours programmes and standard study programmes contribute in different ways to the development of students.
Barend van der Meulen, professor and director at CHEPS, says about the study: “These results show that excellence education has the potential for further development. It would be a shame if the many efforts made in recent years fail to have a greater impact on institutions as a whole.” The preliminary results of the study were presented this week at the conference entitled “Get more out of excellence education”. The conference took place in the context of the 35th anniversary of CHEPS at the University of Twente.