17 Feb 2016

A critical look at LUC's selection of students

Martijn writes*

A Leiden University College Student (LUC) is highly motivated, ambitious and very talented.

At least, that is what the official website implies. This statement is defended by the fact that the selection process of the college is intense in comparison with other Dutch universities. It appears, however, that this is not the only criterion on which LUC is selecting. The selection process seems to accept a higher rate of progressive, liberal, and like it or not, (middle) left wing students rather than more conservative right-winged ones. In this blog I will argue two things, the first being that LUC’s selection process is a matching market instead of a price market, building on to that; matching markets are more prone to market failures.

Most markets balance their demand and supply with the price mechanism. Take the market for roses on Valentines Day. Demand shoots up, which increases the price and hence supply, creating a new market balance. Some markets however, do not have price as a balancing factor, these are known as “matching markets”. Two examples of matching markets are the market for finding a job and the market for finding a partner.

The example we are interested in is the selection process of LUC. Different potential students, as well as, universities have their unique weaknesses and strengths meaning trade-offs are needed to choose between them. Furthermore, both the university and potential student need to be eager for the match to happen. In a price market, the supplier does not show interest in who buys their product. This makes the matching market a much more complicated one being more reliant on information.

Information about LUC can be considered first-rate, with open days, student for a day experiences and interviews. Therefore we can assume that the prospective student is very aware of the student demographic. Conservative potential students are probably going to feel that this might not be the place for them. One could assume too that information about the student is sound with a selection process that involves sending a CV, motivation letter and study results. Lack of information is therefore not the cause for the lack of political diversity. Maybe instead, students who lean to the political right do not endeavour in voluntarily work or maybe there is slight bias in the interview part of the selection process. This would require much more in-depth research then a simple blog post.

What I have done, is a quick poll on the second floor. From this came out that 20 out of the 30 students asked considered themselves to be on the (middle) left spectrum while only 4 said that they were on the (middle) right spectrum. Although this does not fully prove anything, it does give an indication of the political demographics of LUC. What further came out of the poll was that 27 of the addressed would initially judge a right-winged student more badly relative to the middle and left-winged students. A university with ambitious and very talented students should also be one of political diverseness. From an economic standpoint, this means that there is something going wrong with the fairness of the selection market. Either information between the different parties is not good enough, which seems unlikely, or we are unknowingly biased in the selection process, which would call for revision and regulation, as acceptance of political diverseness is a must for the future ‘global citizens’.

Bottom Line Money on its own is never biased, matching markets may very well be. With the selection process of LUC being a matching market we should be more aware of the potential bias in order to ensure the college will remain its political diversity.
* Please comment on these posts from my microeconomics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.


Unknown said...

While I agree that LUC would benefit from a more diverse student population in terms of political orientation, I think you should rethink your statement "money on its own is never biased." Does money exist independently? Money is an instrument of exchange and thereby it always is embedded in relationships, which of course involve power, interests, and preferences. (Or is this too a leftist interpretation of money?) ~ Matthias

Felipe van de Kerkhof said...

Interesting idea and very good that you pointed it out. Your hypothesis is very valid, but I'd like to offer an alternative hypothesis, which might also hold some truth (we'll probably end up somewhere in the middle).

The student body of LUC, and any university (college) programme, has predominantly left-ist views, because of age, position in society (idealism) and economic standing.

Students in the Netherlands are more reliant on receiving benefits from the government to fund their tertiary education (economic standing). These are typically considered left policies of the left.

Furthermore, because of their age and lack of experience students have probably never held any real jobs, which means that they never had to deal with the different financial policies of the different parties. Broadly speaking, tax-schemes are something where 'left' and 'right' parties are very different from each other.

Back to the original post, even though I like the idea, I don't think that the student body of LUC is predominantly oriented to the 'left' is a result of matching markets. The student body in all study programmes in the Netherlands (country I know, and can say something useful about) are predominantly 'left'. This includes programmes without the application procedure we have at LUC and 'matching-markets'.

Joris said...

This is an intriguing, to-the-point blog post! Just to add to Felipe's points:

"Political orientation" and "diversity" are fuzzy terms, where it matters a lot to clarify, to the extent that's possible, what you mean and what you are comparing. This introduces at least three nuances to your inquiry:

1) Is the hypothesis that LUC is less politically diverse in the student body than *what*? Other parts of Leiden University or other Dutch university colleges (probably the most immediate comparators), or other university/liberal arts colleges around the world, or the general Dutch population, or population in other countries? To use your sample from the 2nd floor: If other Dutch university colleges had a left/right ratio of 20/4, too, than there would be no "lack of diversity" as compared to them.

2) It's quite hard to draw the line between left and right on some issues, and becomes even harder when applying such terms across different countries. For instance, I would say supporting some form of public health care scheme does not make you really "left wing" in most of Europe, while it may in (certain parts of) the US (see Obamacare).

3) Let's also make sure not to confuse diversity with representativeness or even equal representation. Coming back to you sample of the 2nd floor, you did find already representatives for each broad political orientation. They were not 50/50%, but that should hardly be the standard for counting as diverse. Think of applying that also to other categories such as gender, religion, sexual orientation, race etc. Lack of diversity would mean a ratio significantly different from the overall pool/society you are looking at. What would that ratio be in this case?

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