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A better fit between secondary and higher education should lead to more ECTS credit points being earned

16 February 2011

A good transition from secondary schooling to higher education is important, in particular these days, when students who don’t finish their degree programme within the set time – the so-called ‘langstudeerders’ – are in danger of being fined. In the past years a great deal has been done to make the transition easier. And this was a good idea, Marjolein Torenbeek’s research suggests. Degree programmes that dovetail well with what students were used to in secondary schools lead to their earning significantly more ECTS credit points in their first year. Torenbeek will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 24 February 2011.

A number of years ago the transition between secondary school and higher education was a hot topic. In particular the study skills and the study attitude of students appeared to be below par. As a result study progress was insufficient and many first-year students quit their degree programmes.

Torenbeek: ‘This led to an innovation called the ‘Studiehuis’ (Study House) being introduced in the upper years of HAVO (senior general secondary education) and VWO (pre-university education). The intention was to better prepare pupils for studying at university. In addition, universities attempted to make the first-year teaching smaller scale. The question is how important such a fit really is in practice. That was the starting point for my research.’

Comparative research

Based on research in VWO secondary schools and in university degree programmes, Torenbeek formulated four different types of fit. In type 1 the teaching at university is just as lecturer-managed as students were used to with teachers in secondary school. In type 2 the teaching is slightly more student-centred than it is in a VWO school. Torenbeek: ‘The more student-centred teaching is, the more students are actively involved in the subject matter.’

Type 3 is where teaching is much more student-centred than students were used to as secondary school pupils. ‘An example of this is problem-based learning. Students are challenged to analyse a problem, to seek information and to process it.’ Type 4 is where the teaching is slightly less student-centred than it is in a VWO school. ‘There are, for instance, less activating assignments during contact hours, and knowledge is imparted mainly by way of lectures.’


The most effective type proved to be type 2, where the teaching is slightly more student-centred than it is at a VWO school. Torenbeek: ‘Students earn significantly more ECTS credit points in their first year with such teaching. It challenges them, without their being overwhelmed by the challenge. If the difference between the types of teaching is too large, they tend to give up more quickly. ’ To put this into perspective, on average, students with the best fit (type 2) earn seven credit points (a full ten percent) more than students with fit type 1. And compared to those with the worst fit (type 4), they earn no less than fourteen points more. ‘Seen in the perspective of the sixty ECTS credit points that can be earned in the first year, this is a major difference,’ according to Torenbeek.

Providing clear information

Torenbeek: ‘I would advise schools to clearly inform their pupils about what they can expect in the various degree programmes.’ She also sees a role for universities: ‘They provide a lot of information. It would be wise if they were to make clear exactly what type of teaching students can expect. Does a degree programme focus on problem-based learning, or are lectures the main teaching method? This would enable prospective students to choose for a type of teaching that best suits their secondary schooling.’ Information activities where students can experience a day of what a certain degree programme is like are very useful in this regard.

To make all teaching student-centred is not an option, according to Torenbeek. ‘There are quite a few degree programmes which are not suited to be taught like this. And some degree programmes are so large scale that lectures are the only option for some course units. ’ She does feel it would help if students became acquainted at school with various teaching methods. ‘If it’s feasible, give pupils a few lectures, where subjects are only outlined, and then let them study further at home. Or offer them an assignment in the form of a problem that they must solve using the problem-based learning method. These are ways you can prepare pupils for all types of higher education, which will certainly improve the fit.’

Curriculum Vitae

Marjolein Torenbeek (Grootegast, 1980) studied psychology at the University of Groningen and conducted her PhD research at the University Centre for Learning and Teaching in Groningen. She will be awarded her PhD in Behavioural and Social Sciences and was supervised by Prof. W.H.A. Hofman, with Dr E.P.W.A. Jansen as her co-supervisor. Her thesis is entitled ‘Hop, skip and jump? The fit between secondary school and university’. Torenbeek is currently working as a postdoc at the university teacher-training programme of the University Centre for Learning and Teaching (UOCG).

Note for the press

Contact: Marjolein Torenbeek, tel. 050-363 3642, e-mail: m.torenbeek


Last modified:13 March 2020 01.55 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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