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Oxbridge for Dutch accused of elitism

A Dutch university is incurring the wrath of the country's egalitarian academic establishment with its plans to set up a new elite college along Oxbridge lines.

The University of Utrecht's decision to open a college for a select 600 Dutch and foreign students next year has already angered student unions and academics.

"It deserves to be denounced. The fact that students will have to make a sizeable contribution to campus costs says it all. It's a study for the privileged," said a spokesman for the students' union.

It is the university's dean-to-be, Prof H. Adriaansens, who as a member of the influential government policy review body, had argued for a broader academic training and of shorter duration, who has promoted the idea.

He rejected the elitist tag, saying the new college was designed to improve the international dimension of Dutch tertiary education.

Its students will face tougher selection criteria and have to work much harder (an average 55 hours a week) than their counterparts at other colleges. Lectures and tutorials will be in English, there will be a greater emphasis on essays, and there will be no exam retakes.

The college will also break with Dutch tradition by offering a three-year bachelor's degree course instead of the usual four-year master's equivalent, the doctorandus. Students will live and work on a university campus, which is unknown in the Netherlands.

Students will also receive intensive teaching, with one tutor per 25 students. Although the official average in the Netherlands is one tutor per 20 students, the reality is different, with most students having to attend mass lectures as many academics concentrate on research.

The study fee for the new college will be just over Pounds 1,000 per year, the same as for other courses. But students will have to make a contribution of Pounds 3,500 and Pounds 4,000 per year towards the cost of running and maintaining a campus. Utrecht University said students who did not have the means to pay could draw on an independent fund.

The adoption of a bachelor's degree system flies in the face of the government's recent rejection of reorganising tertiary education along British and American lines. But the shorter course length underscores the education ministry's efforts to diversify and modernise the system, which has become bogged down in a four-year doctorandus, often extended to six years.

The new college will offer courses in humanities, social sciences and science, with students able to take extra blocks of study to "broaden their horizons". Although students will be able to switch to a doctorandus after the three years, Utrecht expects most to move on to a graduate college abroad or to join an international company.

"Strictly uniform demands on all students and all institutions means we miss chances and under-exploit talent," said Hans van Ginkel, Utrecht's vice-chancellor. "University students will not face a bigger challenge but a different one to a normal university. A combination of international ambition, academic interest, linguistic skills and the willingness to work hard."

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