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How do you overcome a bias against honours programmes?

Nina Troelsgaard Jensen, University College Copenhagen, Denmark

Honours programmes in Europe offers ressources of knowledge to address Transdiciplinarity and the Great Challenges of our time.

With this fanfare professor and STEAM+ projectleader Marca Wolfensberger from The Netherlands welcomed colleagues from nine European countries to the second project meeting of the STEAM+ project. A little over a year ago, we met for the first time in Groningen, NL to kick off this very important project and start an international collaboration that will enforce policy makers all over Europe to rethink what honours students in Higher Education Institutions can accomplish.

The programme of this second meeting was diverse and designed to keep everybody alert and active; among other subjects sharing ideas and reflections on how the concept of honours programmes are received in different countries.

The aim of the STEAM+ project is two-fold. Students and teachers will work together in so called transdisciplinary labs, where they will target one or more of the grand challenges we face as humans. In co-creation they will produce inspiring solutions to the proposed challenges. The solutions will be presented as a Innovation Lab Implementation Path (ILIP).

Following each lab the coordinator of the project in each of the countries involved, will use the exemplary results of the lab (ILIP) to discuss the possibilities of developing and enforcing national honours programmes.

These discussions will take place on three different successive levels and each discussion will elaborate further on the results of the previous level.


The labs, workshops and discussions all contribute to the Menu for Policy Inspiration (MPI) that will be widely disseminated in Europe in order to inspire and enable policymakers to aknowlegde the potential that honours students represent, when it comes to working in transdisciplinarity on the grand challenges of the 21st century.

However in some countries a cultural bias against dedicated honours programmes exists and this may pose a serious threat to the success of the STEAM+ project.

Often the opposition to honours programmes is not explicit, but lies underneath a very equality oriented educational tradition. There seems to be a common notion that students with extraordinary skills, competencies or even ambitions, do not need special attention and thus the ressources are allocated specifically for the students that struggles with the ordinary demands of their studies.

What constitutes a valid argument for implementing special offers for the very best students in one country may not have any validity in another country. Some examples of arguments are:

• Dedicated honours programmes can help prevent students from dropping out because they find adequate challenges and peers with similar interests.
• Lifting out the gifted students by enrolling them in an honours programme leaves room for the next level students to develop further within the class.
• The talents of the best of the students can benefit the entire body of students by contributing new perspectives and reflections.
• The high achieving students can serve as role models and thus inspire their fellow students to aspire higher in their studies.
• Honours programmes can serve as local educational innovation labs and provide important knowledge to both researchers and administrative leaders in higher education institutions.
• Honours students can tackle high complexity challenges and thus they are especially suited for working in a new transdisciplinary field.

I invite you to reflect on what arguments will be useful in your country. Some of the above or some very different?


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