In exchange for nothing: When hard work doesn’t pay off at the University of Amsterdam

In exchange for nothing: When hard work doesn’t pay off at the University of Amsterdam

By Josephine Day Tempelaar

Once a year, students at the University of Amsterdam can apply for an exchange program from a range of 350 partner universities worldwide. Last week, it was time for this year’s big reveal and to discover who was lucky enough to receive an offer. The university recently decided to implement a new exchange application procedure, in which entered students are randomly assigned to destinations through a draw. Such a lottery of chance has stirred strong emotions among the university’s students, leaving many disappointed, confused, and unmotivated by the new system. Is it fair for a university to subject their student’s fate to the luck of the draw, or should students be entitled to an application assessment based on their academic skills and credentials?

I applied to the University of Amsterdam for two reasons. For starters, their Bachelor of Communication Science is ranked first in the world in its field. Secondly, the university offered great exchange opportunities within its study program. When commencing my bachelor’s, the application procedure relied on the assessment of a student’s merits, weighing both academic grades and a motivational letter. Therefore, I made sure to work hard from the very start to ensure that I would be able to apply for such an opportunity. Unfortunately, the university suddenly decided to replace this application procedure by implementing a random draw, which turned out to work against everything my peers and I had strived for. According to the university’s website, the procedure was implemented to make applications easier and offer exchange opportunities to more students. However, when I asked the university’s study advisers why a new system was necessary, it turned out that they simply had too much to do. In reality, the International Office, which is responsible for the exchange program, has been struggling with too much paperwork following the applications in previous years, and the new procedure aims to “ease their workload”. It seems to me that the “one procedure fixes all” solution is more concerned with decreasing the amount of paperwork for the university’s staff than focusing on the students at hand. 

A main concern and consequence of such an application procedure is the risk of discouraging students. There is a reason why a university works with grades, and I speak on behalf of all students who have worked hard to obtain a high GPA when I say that we feel let down. To see all the effort, hours, and hard work that students have put in be ignored in a lottery of chance is both demotivating and unsettling. In addition, there is no opportunity for students to strengthen their applications through letters of motivation, résumés, or extra-curricular merits. This demonstrates the university’s ignorance toward its talented and multifaceted students, while simultaneously contradicting the point of having a grading system at all. If our assignments, exams, and university admission are assessed based on grades, why should this be the exception? 

Furthermore, employers carefully base their decisions on assessing valuable credentials such as the applicant’s skills, experience, motivation, and fit for the position. Random number generators do not make decisions for workplaces, and the same should apply to universities. Despite this, we can already see the same application procedure being implemented throughout the university, such as in the selection of Honors program contenders. Here, entered students with a GPA above 7.5 are once again randomly selected through a draw. This suggests an ongoing pattern within the university to simplify their application procedures at the cost of their students. 

Ultimately, those responsible at the University of Amsterdam need to reassess their decision before the new selection procedure becomes common practice. It only seems fair that those who have worked hard, whether it is for good grades or outstanding practices outside of university, should be assessed thereafter. Two possible solutions to the current issue are to either reimplement the previous procedure where students are assessed based on their credentials, or to consider a separate quota for GPA in the application for exchange. Perhaps such a quota could also act as an incentive for the university to send its high-achieving students to partner universities. Nevertheless, at least a motivational letter should be taken into consideration. As one of the top-ranking universities in Europe and the world, it jars me how, unlike any other top university, they chose to apply such an unjust procedure. As students, we expect more, and we demand the university to do better. My hard work should not be reduced to the luck of a draw, and neither should yours.