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Opinion piece: “Let the random gambling begin” or “semester abroad at Fasos”

By Jana Echterhoff

“So, why don’t you think about spending your semester abroad in the US? It sounds like a great opportunity!” “Your first choice is going to work out anyways, isn’t it?” “Is it actually possible to mention within your application why you want to go to your chosen unis?” – sentences probably quite some second year students at Fasos are hearing frequently at the moment. End of November means application time for the “semester abroad”. And it also means the greatest deal of lottery which I have played so far in my life.

SBE- or UCM-students might not have this problem, however, Maastricht’s lovely “Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences” decided to focus on two particularly weird procedures. First, it doesn’t seem necessary to cooperate with lots of unis outside of Europe. The result: there are eight entire cities with universities on other continents. Amongst them, only three (!) are situated in the “Western world”. Vancouver and Montréal are the lonely defenders of America, Sydney stands for Australia on its own. The others are dedicated to an Asian experiment. For those who want to spend their semester abroad in Europe it might be great – there are probably more than 90 great universities within Europe. For those who want to make use of the opportunity to go far away this, however, probably results in a quite narrow trade-off. Asia or America/Australia? Maybe both? What happens if I cannot manage to get a spot in either of the four? This, now, links to the second weird procedure at Fasos.

As it is widely known, the SBE has its ranking on which they base their allocation. This certainly leads to a lot of competition, however, the students can at least tell where they are likely to get in. For the University College, a letter of motivation as well as the grades are weighted – a great idea, in my opinion. This prevents an only based on competition way of thinking, but takes both the thoughts behind the decision as well as efforts into account. Then there is Fasos. If you ask tutors, they will tell you that “you rather put four choices with which you can live. The computer allocates the students in the end. We cannot influence it at all apart from the best three percent. They are prioritised”. Oh nice, that seems like pure transparency for such an important decision! Apart from around eight students with outstanding grades, the other hundreds of students have to leave the decision where they want to live for half a year to a computer. Of course, there are criteria. However, those which is weighted most is that every students gets a spot in the first round. Then following, the first year’s great are taken into account as well as the ranking of the chosen unis by students. To how many percent? Nobody knows.

The result is that everyone takes care to not put a really crappy university as a sort of “last resort” on the list – stories of students who did so and immediately received that one based on the method of the “shortest-path” are simply too frustrating. Of course, Fasos proudly presents an average of 90 percent allocation in in the first round and the latter ten in the second one. This does not give any information about in how far students were happy with the decision, though. In the end, a semester abroad is always a great experience. This is for sure. Moreover, it also depends on what you make out of it. You can probably have an outstanding time in a small Scandinavian village in the middle of a forest and fail to make the best out of six months in Vancouver. Nevertheless, the transparency is somehow missing as well as those criteria that really matter. What is the motivation behind your choices? Why exactly this and that city? This is not only a random decision, but a quite influential one. I would like to give a better answer to questions such as “why don’t you go to the US?” than “Well, I would if I could”. And I would also like to tell my friends and family more than “I cannot guarantee anything. I really don’t know how the computer will decide”. In my opinion, this seems like something where Maastricht University can certainly work on. A bit more unification among the numerous faculties and a sufficient degree of transparency – that seems like a good starting point. It is not about summer holidays, it is about a life-time experience.

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