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Mastermind Europe – report and final conference (call for proposals)

For the past two years ACA has been cooperating in the framework of the Mastermind Europe project with nine other project partners including ACUP (the Association of Catalan Public Universities), the German Rectors’ Conference – HRK, the Politecnico di Milano, and StudyPortals, under the coordination of Kees Kouwenaar from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The main goal of this initiative is to help create more transparency and synergy over admission processes at Master’s level in Europe.

A newly released report in the project – Admissions to English-Taught Programs (ETPs) at Master’s level in Europe – Procedures, regulations, success rates and challenges for diverse applicants – confirms there is great scope and need for improving general admission practice at Master’s level. The change could be in the direction of a paradigm shift from admissions primarily based on diploma recognition (that prove to be very burdensome for Master’s coordinators and admission officers alike) towards more competency-based admissions, which should alleviate some of the typical challenges that staff at programme and central levels currently encounter.

This report was produced by ACA in collaboration with StudyPortals and Kees Kouwenaar and is based on two online surveys – one of Master’s programme coordinators (363 responses) and one of Master’s level applicants (2242 responses). The report presents the results of the empirical tests on the project’s main hypothesis, i.e. that current admission procedures at Master’s level in Europe are generally more restrictive for external applicants (those with a Bachelor’s or equivalent from another institution from the same country (domestic applicants) or from abroad (foreign applicants)) than they are for internal applicants (those with a Bachelor’s from the same institution).

Here are some of the key findings:

  • The majority of Master’s programmes surveyed (almost 70%) have selective admissions, while less than a third of programmes organise open admissions.
  • Admission processes at Master’s level in Europe seem to be still based primarily on diploma recognition, the ‘prior degree’ (94.7%) and the ‘transcript of records’ (68.4%) being in the top 3 admission criteria used in the application process of most programmes (along the admission form).
  • These are also the criteria that seem to make most of a difference in the selection process, i.e. the requirements for which higher values or scores provide a competitive advantage, most often mentioned being the GPA (in 42.5% of programmes), the prior degree (35.8%) and the transcript of records (33.5%).
  • The admission criteria most often used at the Master’s level – the prior degree and the grades (the transcript of records) – are also the requirements that pose most challenges during the selection process when treating the files of foreign applicants, and to a lesser extent of domestic applicants. Coordinators often struggle with making sense of the prior education (the Bachelor’s or equivalent degree) and previous educational performance (grades) of external candidates, and particularly of foreign applicants. Only 14.0% of coordinators declared they encountered no challenges at all in processing the application files of foreign students.
  • The high occurrence of the word family of “compare” when coordinators were asked to talk about their admission process and the challenges they face in this respect demonstrates that Master’s degrees are still very much designed after the predecessor Bachelor’s degree in the same institution. This shows that very often the admission committees are using the institution’s own Bachelor’s degree, curriculum, and student profile as baselines for assessing the fitness of external degrees and applicants.
  • Two thirds of coordinators (63.8%) stated that it is “more difficult for applicants with a prior qualification (Bachelor or equivalent) from an institution abroad to be accepted to my program than it is for applicants with a prior qualification awarded by my institution”. At the same time, in almost half of the programmes the internal applicants – those with a Bachelor’s degree from the same institution – are automatically admitted to the Master’s (46.2%). This is while, on average in about half of the programmes more than half of the Bachelor’s graduates continued with a Master’s in the same institution, making this further proof that in many institutions the Master’s is the natural continuation of the predecessor Bachelor’s.
  • The average application success rate of internal applicants is 72.0%, decreasing to 64.5% for domestic applicants and further down to 53.5% foreign applicants, with great variation also by region. We would imagine there could be further variation of success rates within the group of foreign applicants – with, for example, applicants that have completed their prior education in another European country showing higher success rates than those with prior education outside of Europe – but the data collected via the two surveys does not support further testing of this hypothesis.

As the project enters its final year of contractual obligations with the European Commission, the team is planning its final project conference, which is open to the wider public. Titled Master’s admission for a diverse international classroom, the conference will take place between 5 and 7 July 2017 in Amsterdam, hosted by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The event aims to bring together academics, researchers and practitioners to discuss how Master’s admissions need to evolve in the context of globalisation and the established European Higher Education Area (EHEA). If you would like to be a speaker at the conference please read the information on the open Call for Proposals. The proposals submission deadline is 1 March 2017.

Full Report -Admissions to English-Taught Programs (ETPs) at Master’s level in Europe – Procedures, regulations, success rates and challenges for diverse applicants 

Master Mind final conference