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  • Writer's pictureLeonore Lebouteiller

Leonore Lebouteiller is awarded the Prize Philippe Maystadt

Students’ academic success at University is far from being predictable solely based on students’ abilities, the institutional framework has also a role to play. By studying the effect of a change from a Year-based system to a Credit-accumulation system with the introduction of the “Paysage’s Decree” in Wallonia-Brussels Federation (FWB), the ARES (Higher Education Research Academy of the FWB) awarded the Master Thesis “Poisoned chalice? Evidence on success at university after the switch from a year-based system toward a credit-accumulation framework” for the “Prix Philippe Maystadt”.

On Friday 26th of February, “Philippe Maystadt Prizes” have been decerned by Mrs. Tulkens, Mr. Despy and Mrs. the Minister Glatigny in the office of the ARES. The ARES awards bachelor, master, and doctorate thesis in subjects linked to education, as a tribute to the former Belgian Minister Philippe Maystadt who contributed to the development of teaching and research in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. By contributing to a better understanding of the FWB institutional system, it is an honour to have my Master Thesis acknowledged by the research and teaching academy.

During a class of Multivariate Statistical Analysis, Prof. Catherine Dehon described several master thesis subjects related to the study of the effect of the reform in the higher education.

As a child of the “Paysage’s Decree”, I started University in the early years of the new framework listening to praises and criticisms about the policy, but without ever seeing any figures about it. During a class of Multivariate Statistical Analysis, professor Catherine Dehon described several master thesis subjects related to the study of the effect of the reform in the higher education. Curious to bring some objective light about the real effects of the policy, we started working on the issue. I am thankful to have received the support and expertise of Mrs. Dehon, without whom this thesis would not have been possible.

The "Paysage’s Decree" was introduced in 2013 in all higher education establishments of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. It marked the transition from a year-based system (known as "Bologna") to a credit accumulation system (called "Paysage"). Very briefly, the decree relaxed the success criteria in the first year, allowing students to access courses in the upper years as soon as 75% of their Annual Student Pathway (PAE) was successful.

A priori, this relaxation may appear favourable to students. The flexibility granted allows students who do not acquire all the credits in their PAE to catch up with the unearned credits later, while progressing in the cycle. However, another more pessimistic hypothesis suggests that the decree encouraged students to accumulate credits, and to leave aside the courses posing the most difficulties, leading them to graduate, or to drop out finally later.

To study the effect of the Paysage Decree on University success, a database of students enrolled at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) was analysed. 17,527 first-generation ULB bachelor students were followed from their enrolment until they left the University. These students came from the 2010-11 cohorts under Bologna and 2014-15-16 under Paysage.

This master thesis uses the methodology of event history, also called survival analysis, described by Scott & Kennedy (2005) and is inspired by the scientific article by Arias Ortiz & Dehon (2013). With survival analyses, student’s characteristics are associated with when the event (dropping out or graduating from a bachelor's degree) is most likely to occur. Holding a scholarship is used as a proxy measure of a student's socioeconomic level.

The results of survival analyses indicate that students are less likely to drop out in the first two years of University under the Paysage decree. However, this news is not encouraging since after five years, the hazard probability to drop out is significantly higher under Paysage than Bologna. This result reinforces the hypothesis suggesting that the Paysage decree encouraged students to persevere in the first years of their academic career, but at the cost of late dropouts. Regarding graduation, the results of survival analyses are not significant, but additional analyses using Multiple Correspondence Analysis suggest that graduation has been delayed under Paysage, and that this delay appears to be larger for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is likely that the insignificance of the results stems from the too short observation period since graduation occurs at the earliest after three years at University for a bachelor's degree.

The inefficiency brought about by the "Paysage" decree is morally and financially costly for many students and families, as well as for the State. The relaxation of the criterions of success in the higher education has been a poisonous gift. Considering these alarming results, a first working paper will be released this year with professor Catherine Dehon to contribute to the literature to get students back on track to the road to academic success.

Leonore Lebouteiller


Catherine Dehon is professor of mathematical statistics, and researcher at the Ecares institute. She has published numerous papers in renowned journals of Statistics and Econometrics.

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