Admission to and selection for a Master’s programme

Why admission requirements?
The Bachelor-Master structure and the distinctive Master’s landscape are responsible for increased choice and flexibility in higher education. Today, a Bachelor’s programme gives access to no longer just one but often a number of Master’s programmes. Students are taking advantage of this increased freedom of choice: an increasing number of them are opting to do a Master’s programme in a different sector and/or at a different university. They are able to choose the best Master’s programme for their particular profile. Students are now often able to gain admission to a Master’s programme even if the Bachelor’s degree programme that they have done has no connection with their chosen Master’s programme. This situation may be possible by doing a preparatory programme or by demonstrating competencies and professional knowledge on the basis of the average marks attained, the courses passed or the successful completion of an admission test, for example. Admission requirements are designed to establish the suitability of candidates: do they have the ability to complete the programme successfully in the time available?


The Dutch Higher Education and Research Act (Dutch only) sets out how Master’s programmes are able to admit students (see Section 7.30b of the Dutch Higher Education and Research Act: admission requirements for Master’s programmes). Anyone wishing to enrol in a Master’s programme must have a Bachelor’s degree or an equivalent level of knowledge at the very least. Master’s programmes may also set a number of qualitative admission requirements, which could relate to specific knowledge, a certain level or a certain language proficiency, among other things. Any individual who meets these requirements will be admitted to the programme. The specific admission requirements to be met are set out in the Teaching and Examination Regulations for the programme in question. These programme regulations and more detailed information about the admission procedure will be available from the website of the institution in question. 


Admission requirements must reflect the objectives of the programme. For example, a Research Master’s will require not just the completion of a related Bachelor’s programme but also an interest in and aptitude for research, which could be evident from the average marks attained or a specific Bachelor’s thesis subject, for example. 


Admission requirements comprise a number of different elements: criteria, standards, methods and scores. Distinguishing between these elements makes it clear exactly what a programme’s requirements are.


Master’s programmes that are subject to a capacity limitation
A limited number of Master’s programmes are subject to a capacity limitation, because of which a selection procedure is in place. Selection focuses on finding the students most suitable for the degree programme in question. A key difference between these programmes and programmes without a capacity limitation is that students who would otherwise have been suitable will not be admitted either. As such, selection based on a capacity limitation may be regarded as a special form of admission.


Admission and selection from the student’s point of view
Students have to commit more time and effort when certain admission requirements apply to their chosen programmes. In addition, a Master’s programme may reject students if they have not met the admission requirements or do not pass the selection procedure. However, students benefit from this system as well: they have more freedom of choice and are able to select a Master’s programme that is right for them. The 2008-2017 Transfer Monitor (Doorstroommonitor 2008-2017) of the Education Inspectorate (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) shows that more students are choosing to take a Master’s programme in a different sector and at a different university to the one at which they did their Bachelor’s programme.


Admission requirements also ensure that all of the students enrolled in a degree programme have the level and ability necessary to complete the programme successfully. For example, if a degree programme does not set an admission requirement for English language skills, some of the students enrolled in the programme may not actually have the English language skills necessary. This fact is also mentioned in the Education Inspectorate report entitled De master van jouw keuze? [‘The Master's programme of your choice?’]: 'More generally, we spoke to students who said that a significant number of the Master’s students enrolled in their programme lacked the English language skills required.' (p31) In other words, students also benefit from the prior assessment of student ability.
The Master’s Admissions Task Force

In June 2017, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (Vereniging van Universiteiten, VSNU) created a task force to spend two years considering several aspects of admission and selection. The task force covers the following subjects: ensuring accessibility, strengthening transparency, and monitoring and improving knowledge of effective selection requirements and methods. A number of agreements have already been made on the basis of the work done by the task force:


  • No student left behind
    • All of the universities have introduced a safety net to avoid a situation in which a student with a Bachelor’s degree from a Dutch university is unable to gain admission to any of the Master’s programmes offered in the Netherlands. Some universities have introduced regulations which students are able to invoke if they are unable to gain admission to a Master’s programme, despite various attempts. Other universities have not had to introduce regulations of this nature because at least one of their Master’s programmes is directly accessible to students from any Bachelor’s programme. 


  • Universities to avoid the double selection of preparatory programme students 
    • The universities have agreed to avoid the double selection of preparatory programme students. In theory, double selection can mean that pre-Master's students are still incapable of transferring to a Master’s programme after completing their preparatory programme. Universities have made the following agreements with the above in mind:
      • a. If a student is enrolling for a preparatory programme aimed at facilitating access to a Master’s programme with qualitative admission requirements (the average marks attained, a language requirement or a motivation requirement, for example), the university will assess whether they meet the requirements in question wherever possible before the preparatory programme starts. The student will then receive a conditional admission decision: if the student completes the preparatory programme successfully, they will be admitted to the Master’s programme.
      • b. If a Master’s programme is subject to a capacity limitation, it will not be possible to issue a conditional admission decision, as this decision would result in the unequal treatment of preparatory programme students in comparison with students who do not take a preparatory programme. To avoid a situation in which students are unable to do a Master’s programme after completing a preparatory programme, universities are ensuring that an alternative Master’s programme is available for preparatory programme students who are unable to enrol in a Master’s programme with a capacity limitation.
  • Knowledge exchange in the Learning Community
    • The universities have been exchanging their knowledge and experiences of admission and selection policy with each other in the Learning Community since 2017. Read more here about the Learning Community and its latest meeting (Dutch only). 
  • The Master’s admission framework
    • In spring 2018, the Minister asked the task force to present a proposal on a Master’s admission framework. This framework was established in the summer of 2018, in consultation with student unions. The Minister notified the Dutch House of Representatives in the letter to Parliament on accessibility and equal opportunities (Kamerbrief toegankelijkheid en kansengelijkheid) (Dutch only). By establishing the Master’s admission framework (Dutch only), universities have been able to clarify the careful way in which admission to a Master's programme can and must take place. Accessibility is guaranteed, information is provided as to how and why a degree programme sets certain requirements, and all students are required to meet the same criteria and standards.