The fall semester is about to begin: That’s when the University of Zurich (UZH) will, for the first time, distribute money to its top masters students as part of a three-year pilot project. Official name of the exam: “Excellence Grant”.
The amount of contribution forces you to sit down and notice: 20 undergraduates receive 10,000 francs per semester – that’s 40,000 francs for a two-year postgraduate degree. For a student in his early 20’s, for example, it was a hefty sum.
According to UZH, the funds “should cover a significant portion of the cost of living”. The goal of the measure, which may be related to intense competition for academic talent: enlisted top individuals should be able to concentrate fully on their studies. A welcome side effect: Top students stay at Swiss universities, and immigration abroad slows down.
The timing of the broadcast is also no coincidence: the exclusion of Switzerland from the European research program Horizon, which followed the conclusion of a framework agreement with the European Union, has put Switzerland under considerable pressure as a research position.
The financial situation of the students does not play any role in the selection process. Only their performance matters. UZH urged SonntagsBlick that the Excellence Scholarships were created to complement previous support offers and that social scholarships for financially disadvantaged students would not be harmed as a result.
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However, the necessity of this reward system is controversial. UZH continues to enjoy a very good international reputation. When asked, they even confirmed a positive trend: for some time now, more masters students are coming to Zurich than emigrating. With the introduction of Excellence Scholarships, it is expected that there will be a high number of high-performing young researchers from in-house bachelor’s degree programs.
Anyone wishing to apply for a new scholarship must be above their average grade and – as the university says on its website – must be able to provide commendable evidence that they have ambitions and potential to achieve something extraordinary. Also, a letter of recommendation, CV and a personal questionnaire are considered when evaluating applicants. The lucky winners are selected by drawing lots from the pool of those who have qualified. This approach has proven itself in the last few years, according to Vice Rector Gabriel Cigart.
The average student lags behind
SonntagsBlick asked some undergraduate and postgraduate students for their opinions and received critical answers. After all, the amount is questionable – and it has been pointed out that students in difficult financial situations often cannot achieve top marks due to lack of part-time jobs and tutoring opportunities. They are also not eligible for an excellence scholarship, which could increase inequality at UZH.
According to the media office of the University of Zurich, the pilot project is considered successful if the process is adopted by the faculty and sufficient funds are raised through fundraising for a specific role.
That is what the students say
Benjamin Kaspersky: “I generally think financial aid is good for students. In this case, it is not relevant to me because my grades are unfortunately not excellent and I cannot take advantage of this offer.
10,000 CHF per semester and supports a very small group of individual students, a very large amount, it promotes excellence. I fear that people will benefit from the support they do not need at all, while those who need it are served less.
More students will benefit if you share the money separately. That’s why I hope such scholarships can be extended and there are other funding offers for committed students without top marks. “
Julia Obrist: “I think the introduction of excellence grants might be a good idea, because it creates an incentive for top performance. It’s a win-win situation. The amount of 10,000 francs is too much, especially since it is not intended to improve one’s performance, but only to cover the cost of living.
Unless other students are disadvantaged by the new funding, I think it’s fair. Whether financial motivation is needed at all is different for each person. Some perform exceptionally well because of their underlying motivation, but some also require material incentives.
Another idea is to motivate excellent students to pursue a postgraduate degree with a guaranteed place in a well-known research project instead of money at the University of Zurich.
Angela Fennis: “I think excellence scholarships will increase inequality among students. Many financially weak students have to work alongside their studies and cannot afford tutoring to get top grades. As a result, they will receive less excellence grants, although they will be just as talented. That is why I think the selection of scholarship holders is unfair.
Of course, 10,000 francs is a great incentive to complete a postgraduate degree at the University of Zurich – but most students, including the top grades, are not dependent on money in any way and are not affected by it. For me, the scholarship is primarily a help for talented young people who cannot complete their studies without financial support. I think it would be better to reward exceptional performances and offer jobs or internships for excellent graduates.