Marks do not tell the whole story

Rector Brian Bech Nielsen and Dean Mette Thunø comment on the recent debate about the universities’ admission requirements.

Admissions requirements at the universities are up for debate. Archive photo: Søren Kjeldgaard

An average mark does not tell the full story about a student’s qualifications. But of course we must set requirements for our applicants, and we must do more for the brightest talents.

A student’s average mark from upper secondary school is not always the best indicator of how well he or she will perform as a university student, and there are also major differences between the different study programmes. In other words, marks don’t tell the whole story.

That is why it is important that we regularly investigate each individual study programme to understand how admissions requirements contribute towards ensuring its quality and the students’ opportunities for achieving a satisfactory academic level.

A little perspective is in order: Today, 88 per cent of Aarhus University’s students are admitted to the university with an average mark above 6.0. However, this does not mean that the final 12 per cent are the students who consistently have the most difficult time as university students.

Minimum requirements not ruled out

It cannot be ruled out that Aarhus University will introduce minimum requirements in the future in regard to the required minimum average mark for some Bachelor’s degree programmes that do not have currently have such requirements. But this will not take the form of a general requirement across the entire university.

Aarhus University’s aim is not to admit as many students as possible to its degree programmes. We emphasise that our degree programmes are of high quality, that they have a high academic level, and that our graduates reflect this. The students must have the necessary prerequisites to successfully complete their degree programmes. We have not determined how best to ensure this,but we have established that the correlation between the average mark of from upper secondary school and satisfactory completion is not clear-cut everywhere.

A general minimum average mark requirement may also serve to reinforce an existing trend: that upper secondary school students think about their average mark rather than the academic substance when they choose which track to take and that they subsequently spend time on supplementary courses.

It is crucial that we set clear requirements for applicants. But a low mark in history does not necessarily have any bearing on whether you become a good chemistry student – or vice versa. One possible solution might be for us to introduce specific subject-related admission requirements.

We must do more for the very best

The applicants who meet the admissions requirements can expect to be admitted to a high-quality degree programme and to become a sought-after product on the labour market, where Aarhus University’s graduates generally do well.

At the same time, we owe it to ourselves to do even more for the brightest talents. All of Aarhus University’s degree programmes place great demands on their students, but some of our students can handle even greater challenges. We must make a special effort to offer them such challenges. Simply put, our goal is for the students to have the best opportunities to explore and fulfil their potential.

We have already launched special talent programmes in physics and nanoscience, and these will probably not be the only places where the most talented and hard-working students will have such opportunities.