A mega-university could dramatically improve the Netherlands' reputation in academic circles... and rumour has it that Holland is about to get one. Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam are planning to cooperate more closely and are even considering amalgamating their institutions. But it might not be as simple as it sounds.
The three universities are aiming at a higher international profile and attracting a large number of foreign students and professors as well as a higher place on the international rankings or the science university top 10.
According to I-Graduate's Nannette Ripmeester, amalgamating the three universities could help. Ms Ripmeester compiles the International Student Barometer, (ISB), an index of the factors that contribute to the attractiveness of universities across Europe.
“I'm sure that they'll jump a few places in the rankings. It's based on the university's scientific output; if you put more scientists and researchers together, then the number of articles and papers published in journals will also increase. That's how an institution rises in the rankings on the citation index. The scientists and researchers are cited in other papers and that increases the visibility and attractiveness of the institution".
In the world university rankings 2010 from the Times higher education supplement, Delft technical University is number 49. Leiden is ranked somewhere in the 80s. Ms Ripmeester believes a merger is a logical move for the three institutions and says many foreigners, in particular people from the USA, are amazed at the number of universities in such a tiny country.
“An American student landing at Schiphol airport and taking a train to Rotterdam would pass through three cities each containing four universities. It's a situation that doesn't occur anywhere else in the world".
However, if the three institutions do merge, they would do well not to become fixated on the rankings says Ms Ripmeester.
“According to the ISB, the scientific rankings come eighth on the list of most important things considered by a student looking to study abroad. Although a higher scientific ranking is always advantageous for an institution, there's no need to go into mourning if they are not in the top 10".
She adds that foreign students are far more concerned with the quality of the education and the chance of finding a job after completing a degree. Most foreign students get information about the quality of teaching from their friends and acquaintances via social media and personal networks.
Jelmer de Ronde is the deputy chair of the National Student Union (LSVb). He warns that the quality of education and the attractiveness of an institution could be undermined by a merger.
“We're afraid that a merger will create a giant university and the management will lose sight of what's happening in the classrooms. If something goes wrong, they won't know and therefore won't do anything about it. The quality of education would suffer and that would affect the institutions' image, and that's important to international students."
Mr de Ronde is referring to the recently revealed problems with the quality of education at InHolland, a mega-college with about 40,000 students. The institution, which was created through dozens of mergers, was awarding diplomas to students who turned in work that was clearly below standard or who had failed to complete the curriculum.
According to NRC Handelsblad, the three universities will announce their merger in September. The institutions have refused to comment.