Smart dumb people and dumb smart people

The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) published an interesting study yesterday. The report – Excellence for Productivity? – investigates the position of the Netherlands vis-a-vis other OECD countries in terms of their skill distribution.

The findings in short:

  • The Dutch perform very well on average
  • The ‘not so bright’ Dutch students are smart compared to their ‘not so bright’ counterparts in other countries.
  • The smartest students in the Netherlands (the top (99th) percentile) are less brilliant than their brilliant counterparts in other OECD countries.

The findings mainly refer to pre-tertiary education. According to the CPB, the findings indicate that there is scope for improvement of skills at the right-hand side (the ‘smart side’) of the distribution. Therefore, policies that raise the Dutch performance at high- and top skill levels may improve Dutch productivity.

The (problematic?) balance between egalitarianism and excellence has been an issue in Dutch politics for the past years. And history shows that shifting the balance is easier planned than done, also in higher education. Measures like the selective admission of students or differentiation in student fees have not (yet) had the desired effects. However, various initiatives are being experimented with such as honours programmes and ‘elite’ colleges. Elitism isn’t really a Dutch thing, I guess… Or is it?

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