Unintended barriers prevent students from training according to their preferences

The inspection body monitors access to higher education: those qualified for admission to higher education must also be accepted. However, students can be prevented from choosing a particular study program due to unintended side effects of the study program characteristics. These potential thresholds have now been investigated. For example, prospective students are not encouraged because the intended program organizes a selection day before an important exam or test. Even if the study program is taught in English, or if the study program involves additional costs, this can be a barrier for students.

speed bumps

The three biggest barriers students face are: English as the language of instruction, a program that requires additional costs, and the unfortunate timing of the selection procedure. However, the perceived height of the threshold varies greatly: one ambitious student is more likely to fall behind than the other. This depends on the background and personal characteristics of the student. The size of the group making other choices through self-selection also varies. Some thresholds lead to little self-selection, also because some at-risk groups are small. As a result, self-selection, for example, between high school students who fear failure and MBO students is not readily apparent in the study program admission numbers.


If the study program chooses English as the language of instruction, this presents a particularly barrier between MBO students for female students, students who are afraid of failure, and for students with a Dutch background. Among HAVO students, English is a barrier for girls, students whose parents did not pursue a science education, students with exam stress, and for students with a Dutch background. The average pre-university student isn’t deterred by much English, although it’s somewhat more annoying for pre-university students who are afraid of failure and pre-university students with a Dutch background.

Additional cost

If the study program asks for additional costs, this is especially a barrier for female students and for students who are afraid of failure among MBO students. In the case of pre-university students, costs are a barrier especially for pupils with parents from lower income groups, but also for pupils who are left out and pupils who are experiencing exam stress.


Finally, the unfortunate timing of the selection procedure was shown to be an additional high limit for older MBO graduates, for MBO graduates with a Western immigrant background, who have parents with higher professional education, and who come from lower income groups or have loan aversions. Pre-university students who struggle above average with timing of selection are older students, students who prefer not to borrow, and students who struggle with exam stress. Unruly students and pre-university students with scientifically trained parents also face unfortunate timing of the selection procedure as a hindrance.

The Inspectorate considers it important that higher education institutions make an appropriate evaluation when structuring the program – language of instruction, costs – and also during the selection procedure. It is not always possible to prevent the choice of program format from creating a barrier for some ambitious students. However, training programs must consider who may be disadvantaged with different options, whether the resulting threshold is necessary, and how they can reduce unintended thresholds.

unintended self-selection

Deans or study advisors in secondary vocational and secondary education can contribute to reducing unintended self-selection. This can be done by recognizing that the student’s background or personal characteristics can lead to self-selection. Study deans or advisors can ask additional questions about the topic, and possibly give one at a time.


The survey was conducted on a representative sample of 2588 pupils and students in their final year of HAVO, VWO, and MBO-4. In order to discover what motivates them to make a particular choice, they were presented with situation diagrams in which the characteristics of the courses are constantly varied. Young people answered in different situations what they would do under these circumstances.

This is the second study on self-selection on the path to higher education, conducted in response to the Van den Hul movement. The first study examined self-selection when considering whether or not to continue studying after completing the MBO-4 program.

By: National Education Guide

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