Changing paradigms: towards competency-assessment in admission to master’s programmes in Europe: a review

  • Kees Kouwenaar VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
Keywords: higher education, Europe, master’s admission, diverse classroom, competency-assessment, internationalisation


The majority of efforts to improve admission to master’s programmes in Europe for students with a bachelor´s from outside the providing university have been focused on standardization of defined outcomes of bachelor´s degrees and improvement in mechanisms for recognition of diplomas and degree. With growing diversity within and around these master’s programmes, an alternative approach to master’s admission in needed. This article analyses the nature and shortcomings of the standardisation and the recognition approach and reports on the creation of a competency-assessment based approach in the Mastermind Europe project. In that project – part of the EU’s ERASMUS+ programme, Guiding Tools are produced for academic master’s directors who want to base their admission decisions less on recognition of a diploma and more on assessment of the applicants´ competency. The Guiding Tools focus on specific categories of admission criteria, on how they can be brought together in a coherent framework and on IT tools to help organize the process. The guiding tools are accompanied by a short Introductory Note on the Paradigm Shift from diploma-recognition based to competency-based master’s admission.[1] This article[2] is a more elaborate version of that introductory note, reflecting also the progress in thinking and tool development since the start of the project. It is intended both for users of the Guiding Tools who seek more background and detail, and for readers with a general interest in the topic. For users of the Guiding Tools, it may give them additional reasons and arguments that they may find useful to increase commitment in their own university.

Published online: 23 December 2015

[1] A competency-assessment approach to master’s admission should not be confused with Competency-Based Education.

[2] The author acknowledges the support received from all members of the Mastermind Europe project team; outside the team, special acknowledgement is due to Robert Wagenaar (Tuning) and to Bas Wegewijs (Nuffic/Naric).


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Author Biography

Kees Kouwenaar, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands

He has over 30 years of experience in internationalisation and international cooperation in higher education. He is senior advisor international strategy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (VUA), the Netherlands. At the Vrije Universiteit he served before as Strategic Programme manager Internationalisation and as director of the Centre for International Cooperation. Before moving to the VUA in 2008, he served as director of CILC (Centre for International Legal Cooperation), an NGO in legal and judicial development cooperation from 2002. He started his career in 1982 at Nuffic (the Netherlands organisation for International Cooperation in HE). At Nuffic, he worked as expert and director of NARIC-NEIC and served internationally as president of the NARIC network, chair of the EAIE professional sector for Admission and Credential Evaluation, and as key expert for the Lisbon Recognition Convention. His key areas of expertise are in international recognition of qualification, internationalisation of learning outcomes, comprehensive internationalisation strategy and practice, internationalisation of research, and capacity development in HE institutions. He has published on recognition, capacity development in HE and on strategies for internationalisation of HE. Kees Kouwenaar holds a ‘doctorandus’ degree in History from the Vrije Universiteit (comparable to BA + MA in History). Mail:


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How to Cite
Kouwenaar, Kees. 2015. “Changing Paradigms: towards Competency-Assessment in Admission to master’s Programmes in Europe: A Review”. Tuning Journal for Higher Education 3 (1), 99-135.