The fall semester is supposed to start: That’s when the University of Zurich (UZH) will distribute money to its best master’s students for the first time as part of a three-year pilot project. Official name of the experiment: «Excellence grant».
The amount of the contributions makes you sit up and take notice: 20 bachelor’s graduates each receive 10,000 francs per semester – for a two-year master’s degree, that’s 40,000 francs. For a student in her early 20s, for example, that’s a hefty sum.
According to UZH, the funds should “cover a substantial part of the cost of living”. The aim of the measure, which is probably related to the intensified competition for academic talent: enrolled top people should be able to concentrate fully on their studies. A welcome side effect: Top students remain at the largest Swiss university, and migration abroad is slowed down.
The timing of the campaign is also no coincidence: the exclusion of Switzerland from the European research program Horizon, which followed the end of a framework agreement with the EU, has put Switzerland under considerable pressure as a research location.
The financial situation of the students plays no role in the selection. What counts is only their performance. The UZH emphasized to the SonntagsBlick that the excellence scholarships are intended as a supplement to the previous support offer and that the social scholarships for weak students will not suffer as a result.
One waits for offspring researchers
However, the necessity of this reward system is disputed. The UZH continues to enjoy a very good international reputation. When asked, they even confirmed a positive trend: For some time now, more Master’s students have been coming to Zurich than emigrating. With the launch of the excellence grants, it is now hoped above all that there will be a higher number of high-performing young researchers from the official bachelor’s degree courses.
Anyone wishing to apply for the new scholarship needs above-average grades and – as the university states on its website – must be able to provide plausible evidence that he or she has the ambition and potential to achieve something extraordinary. In addition, a letter of recommendation, the CV and a personal questionnaire are taken into account when evaluating the applicant. The lucky winners are then chosen by drawing lots from the pool of those who have qualified. According to Vice Rector Gabriele Siegert, this method has proven itself over the past few years.
Average students are left behind
SonntagsBlick asked some students from the bachelor’s and master’s level for their opinion and also received critical answers. Above all, the amount is questioned – and it is pointed out that students from difficult financial circumstances often cannot achieve top marks due to part-time jobs and a lack of tutoring opportunities. They are also not eligible for an excellence scholarship, which could improve inequality at UZH.
According to the media office of the University of Zurich, the pilot project is considered successful if the procedure is accepted by the faculties and several funds for a definitive introduction are generated through fundraising.
That’s what students say
Benjamin Kasperski studied Education and Psychology.
Benjamin Kaspersky: “I generally think the support for students is good. In this case, it is not relevant for me because my grades are unfortunately not excellent and I cannot take advantage of this offer.
CHF 10,000 per semester and person supports a very small group of students with a very high amount, it is a promotion of excellence. I fear that people will benefit from the support they don’t absolutely need, while those who do need it are under-served.
If you split the money differently, more students will benefit. That’s why I hope that such scholarships can be expanded and that there are also other funding offers for committed students without top marks.»
Julia Obrist is about to complete her biology bachelor’s degree.
Julia Obrist: «I think the introduction of excellence grants tends to be a good idea, as it creates an incentive for top performance. It’s a win-win situation. Those chosen receive massive financial aid and the university keeps its top students on site. But I think the amount of 10,000 francs is very high, especially since it is not intended to improve the performance itself, but is only intended to cover the cost of living.
As long as other students are not disadvantaged by the new funding, I think it is justifiable. Whether financial motivation is needed at all is different for each person. Some perform exceptionally because of their intrinsic motivation, but some also need a material incentive.
Another idea would be to motivate excellent students to do a master’s degree at the University of Zurich with a guaranteed place in renowned research projects instead of money.”
Angela Fenice is studying medicine for her master’s degree.
Angela Fenice: «I think that the Excellence Scholarships will improve the inequality between students. Many financially weaker students have to work alongside their studies and cannot afford tutoring in order to achieve top grades. As a result, they will also receive fewer excellence grants, although they would be awarded the same way. That’s why I find the selection of scholarship holders unfair.
Of course, the 10,000 francs are a great incentive to complete a Master’s degree at the University of Zurich – but most students with top grades are not dependent on the money anyway and are not influenced by it. For me, scholarships are a primary support for talented young people who cannot complete their studies without financial support. I think it would be better to reward exceptional performance with prizes and to offer jobs or internships for excellent bachelor’s graduates.»