Numerus clausus
Numerus clausus is one of many methods used to limit the number of student
A student is a learner, or someone who attends an educational institution. In some nations, the English term is reserved for those who attend university, while a schoolchild under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English...

s who may study at a university
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

. In many cases, the goal of the numerus clausus is simply to limit the number of students to the maximum feasible in some particularly sought-after areas of studies.

However, in some cases, numerus clausus policies were in effect religious or racial quotas, both in form and motivation.

Modern use

The numerus clausus is currently used in countries and universities where the number of applicants greatly exceeds the number of available places for students. This is the case in many countries of continental Europe
Continental Europe
Continental Europe, also referred to as mainland Europe or simply the Continent, is the continent of Europe, explicitly excluding European islands....


Students in much of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 choose their field of specialization when they begin university study, unlike students in North America, who specialize later. Fields such as medicine, law, biology, dentistry, pharmacology, psychology and business administration are particularly popular and therefore harder to gain admittance to study.

In France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, admission to the grandes écoles is obtained by competitive exams with a fixed, limited number of positions each year. Also, at the end of the first year of medical studies in universities, there is a competitive exam with a numerus clausus for determining which students are allowed to proceed to the second year; in later years of medical studies there is a competitive exam (concours de l'internat) for choosing medical specialties.

Numerus clausus in Germany

The numerus clausus is currently used in Germany to address overcrowding and protect specific occupations—while the number of students has increased by 100% to two million since 1980, the number of professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

s has increased by only 25% in the same time period.

With successful completion of the academically-oriented and state-approved secondary school (usually graduation from a Gymnasium
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

 or completion of the highest of the various degrees offered by a Gesamtschule, sometimes graduation from a Kolleg
The German Kolleg is a school serving mature students. Students at a college sit the Abitur final exam and may proceed into university.Only people who are older than 19 years may enroll in a Kolleg. As a rule persons need the Mittlere Reife and a vocational training in order to be allowed to attend...

, a Folk high school
Folk high school
Folk high schools are institutions for adult education that generally do not grant academic degrees, though certain courses might exist leading to that goal...

 or a Berufsoberschule
Berufsoberschule is an optional part of the German education system, and is an additional way to be allowed at university for students who didn't get an Abitur at a Gymnasium.- Requirements :...

), a student passes the so-called Abitur
Abitur is a designation used in Germany, Finland and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling, see also for Germany Abitur after twelve years.The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife, often referred to as...

 exams. After this is completed, he receives a document that confirms his passing and lists his grades. This is then used to obtain either an implicit or an explicit permission to study at a university. The German state in which an Abitur
Abitur is a designation used in Germany, Finland and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling, see also for Germany Abitur after twelve years.The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife, often referred to as...

 is granted must honor the permission to study at a university.

There are several quotas at the German universities.
  • at least 2 percent of students admitted must be so called Härtefälle (disadvantaged students, including those with disabilities and those in a difficult personal situation, such as orphans or people who have to care for a sick family member)
  • 20 percent of the students admitted must be "talented 20", the students, who graduated with a GPA that put them in the top 20 percent of their class (it should be noted that very few high school age students in Germany receive the highest possible GPA)
  • 20 of the slots must be granted to the students who have been wait-listed for the longest time
  • in the rest of cases the college may pick its students. It may apply different criteria.

The procedure before autumn 2005

On a federal level, each year 51 percent of the available university places in a given field of study, e.g. biology, are distributed among those who have the best Abitur marks, 25 percent of the places are awarded to applicants who are on a waiting list, and the following 24 percent are given to applicants who fulfill the so-called "Hochschulkriterium" (literally "high school criterion", a "Hochschule" in German means a university-like institution, not a high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

 in the U.S. sense, for example). The Hochschulkriterium is determined by the college or university itself, it may be based on interviews, written applications, Abitur marks in specific classes etc.

On the local level, applicants are distributed to the several universities. Effectively, about 25 percent are assigned to the university they want to attend (according to a list of preferences). The rest are given to applicants who have reasons to study in a specific place, e.g. if they have to care for children or if they are disabled.

Numerus clausus in Finland

The Finnish
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 system of implementing the numerus clausus provides an interesting comparison to the German model. In Germany, the main weight of the student selection lies on the Abitur grades (i.e. high school diploma). In Finland, which has a similar nationwide final exam, the matriculation examination (Finnish
Finnish language
Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

 ylioppilastutkinto), the majority of student selections are based on entrance exams. As every university has internal autonomy, the entrance procedures vary widely. Most degree programs consist of a single major subject and have their own entrance procedures. Typically, the syllabus of the entrance exam consists of several basic textbooks in the chosen area. Typically, the student must take a written exam consisting of open-ended questions. In addition to the exam score, the applicant may also receive points from the high school diploma grades and from previous experience and hobbies. However, nearly all programs have a quota in which the score is calculated solely on the basis of the entrance exam. The quota gives a second chance to students who have fared badly in the matriculation exam or have only a vocational diploma. Previously, the matriculation exam certificate was a mandatory requirement de jure, but currently it is only so de facto.

The student is almost never required to a file statement of intent, recommendations or similar personal documents. Interviews are only used in the fields of education and drama. In education, the purpose of the interview is mainly to remove applicants of a totally unsuitable character. The extensive use of standard-form applications and written exams is explained by the fear of personal bias introduced by more personal selection methods. However, the written exams usually consist of open-ended questions requiring the applicant to write an essay or solve problems. Multiple choice tests are uncommon.

In fields where the competition for study places is less fierce, the selection system resembles the German model. In universities, this is especially the case with the engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

 and natural science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

 programs. It is relatively easy to be accepted in these fields—about one-third of the study places in technology are awarded on the basis of the matriculation exam. The rest of the students are admitted on the basis of an entrance exam.

After receiving a study place, the student must accept it in writing on the pain of forfeiting the place. In case the students receive more than one study place, they must select one. During the year, one person may accept only a single study place in an institution of higher education. The system is enforced through a national database on student admissions.

In the Finnish system, the numerus clausus is the most important factor limiting student numbers. After gaining entrance, traditionally a student cannot be expelled, pays no tuition
Tuition payments, known primarily as tuition in American English and as tuition fees in British English, Canadian English, Australian English, New Zealand English and Indian English, refers to a fee charged for educational instruction during higher education.Tuition payments are charged by...

, and enjoys a state student benefit
Student benefit
Student benefits are transfer payments that are given to students for purposes of full-time study, and require progress in studies, or obtaining academic credits. Student benefits are found in countries where education is free of charge, e.g. Finland and Sweden...

. The new legislation, introduced in the summer of 2005, limits the study period to seven years, but it is anticipated that it will be relatively easy to receive a permission for a longer study time. No changes to the financial position of the student are currently being considered (as of the summer of 2005).

Numerus clausus in Switzerland

The introduction of the Numerus clausus in Switzerland has limited the access to the medical studies at the universities. At all universities of the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the students need to have a high score on an aptitude test that comprises logical and spatial thinking and text understanding skills.

The universities in the western, French-speaking part of Switzerland did not decide to introduce a numerus clausus. Instead, these universities provide unrestricted access to the first-year curriculum in medicine; and the best first-year students are allowed to further their medical studies at the same or at another university.

In other popular faculties like psychology or journalism, there are also aptitude tests—but they concern only a single university.

Historical use as a prejudiced rule

Before the Second World War, the limitations in eastern Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an countries were usually based on the religion and/or perceived race
Who is a Jew?
"Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...

 of the student, specifically limiting the number of students of Jewish origin.(see 'in Hungary' and 'in Poland' sections below)

This limitation took the form of total prohibition of Jewish students, or of limiting the number of Jewish students so that their share in the student population would not be larger than their share in the general population (Jewish quota
Jewish quota
Jewish quota was a percentage that limited the number of Jews in various establishments. In particular, in 19th and 20th centuries some countries had Jewish quotas for higher education, a special case of Numerus clausus....

). It was introduced with a view to restricting Jewish participation in higher education.

Countries legislating limitations on the admission of Jewish students, at various times, have included:
  • Austria
    Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

  • Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

  • Hungary
    Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

  • Imperial Russia
  • Iraq
    Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

  • Latvia
    Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

     (from 1934 under Kārlis Ulmanis
    Karlis Ulmanis
    Kārlis Augusts Vilhelms Ulmanis was a prominent Latvian politician in pre-World War II Latvia during the Latvian period of independence from 1918 to 1940.- Education and early career :Ulmanis studied agriculture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and...

  • Netherlands
    The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

  • Poland
    Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

     (see section below)
  • Romania
    Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

  • United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     (see section below)
  • Vichy France
    Vichy France
    Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

  • Yugoslavia
    Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

Numerus clausus in Hungary

The Hungarian Numerus Clausus was introduced in 1920. Though the text did not use the term "Jew", it was nearly the only group overrepresented in higher education. The policy is often seen as the first Anti-Jewish Act of twentieth century Europe.

Its aim was to restrict the number of Jews to 6%, which was their proportion in Hungary at that time; the rate of Jewish students was approximately 15% in the 1910s. In 1928—because of the pressure of liberal capital and League of Nations—a less explicit version of the act was passed. In the period of 1938–1945 the anti-Jewish acts were revitalised and eventually much worsened, partly due to German Nazi pressure, but also due to the liquidation of left-wing or centrist Hungarian parties during the White Terror.

Many Hungarian scientists such as Edward Teller
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

 emigrated partly because of the Numerus Clausus.

Numerus clausus in Poland

Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 tried to introduce a formal Numerus Clausus law in 1923, but faced objections from the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

. However a Numerus Clausus was unofficially introduced in 1937 by some universities and the share of Jewish students was limited to 10%, which was the proportion of Jews in the population of Poland (compared to 20–60% before regulation).

The official reason for the policy was that during the Russian Tsar's rule, Poles were denied education in Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

, and the schools were badly funded. The advocates of the solution pointed out that the limit would balance the chance to enter university of all nationalities in Poland (Polish, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, German etc.).

The other reason given by the supporters of the idea was that it was an attempt to equal the chance of children from countryside families who had very limited access to education to the chance of the children of Jewish families living in the towns and cities. This was because, the Polish intelligentsia
The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

 of Jewish origins formed at least 40–50% of the whole Polish educated class.

Similar policies, but based on preferential treatment of peasant children and working class children, were introduced after World War II, with significant success. The children from working class families had preference over students from the intelligentsia and bourgeois classes.

Numerus clausus in the United States

Although never officially legislated, between 1918 and the 1950s a number of private universities and medical schools introduced numerus clausus policies limiting admissions of students based on their religion or race to certain percentages within the college population. One of the groups affected by these policies was Jewish applicants, whose admission to some New England and New York City area liberal arts universities fell significantly between the late 1910s and the mid-1930s. For instance, the admission to Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 during that period fell from 27.6% to 17.1% and in Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 from 32.7% to 14.6%. Corresponding quotas were introduced in the medical and dental schools resulting during the 1930s in the decline of Jewish students: e.g. in Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 School of Medicine from 40% in 1918–22 to 3.57% in 1940–41, in Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

 Medical School from 48.4% in 1929–30 to 12.5% in 1934–35. During this period, a notable exception among U. S. medical schools was the medical school of Middlesex University
Middlesex University (Massachusetts)
Middlesex University, known primarily for its medical and veterinary schools, operated from 1914 until 1947, first in Cambridge, Massachusetts, later in Waltham, Massachusetts....

, which had no quotas and many Jewish faculty members and students; school officials believed that antisemitism played a role in the school's failure to secure AMA
American Medical Association
The American Medical Association , founded in 1847 and incorporated in 1897, is the largest association of medical doctors and medical students in the United States.-Scope and operations:...


In addition to Jewish applicants, Catholics, African-Americans, Eastern/Southern Europeans, and women were also targeted by admission restrictions. African-Americans, in some instances, were outright excluded (numerus null) from admission: e.g., at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. The most common method, employed by 90% of American universities and colleges at the time to identify the "desirable" (native-born, white, Protestant) applicants, were the application form questions about their religious preference, race, and nationality. Other more subtle methods included restrictions on scholarships, rejection of transfer students, and preferences for alumni sons and daughters.

Legacy preference for university admissions was devised in 1925 at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, where the proportional number of Jews in the student body was growing at a rate that became alarming to the school's administrators. However, even prior to that year, Yale had begun to incorporate such amorphous criteria as 'character' and 'solidity', as well as 'physical characteristics', into its admissions process as an excuse for screening out Jewish students; but nothing did the trick quite like legacy preference, which allowed the admissions board to summarily pass over Jews in favor of 'Yale sons of good character and reasonably good record', as a 1929 memo phrased it. Other schools, including Harvard, soon began to pursue similar policies for similar reasons, and Jewish students in the Ivy League
Ivy League
The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States. The conference name is also commonly used to refer to those eight schools as a group...

 schools were maintained at a steady 10% through the 1950s. Such policies were gradually discarded during the early 1960s, with Yale being one of the last of the major schools to eliminate the last vestige with the class of 1970 (entering in 1966). While legacy admissions as a way of screening out Jewish students may have ceased, the practice of giving preference to legacies has continued to the present day. In the 1998 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, authors William G. Bowen, former Princeton University president, and Derek Bok, former Harvard University president, found "the overall admission rate for legacies was almost twice that for all other candidates."

The religion preference question was eventually dropped from the admission application forms and informal numerus clausus policies in the American private universities and medical schools were abandoned by the 1950s.

Numerus Clausus as related to matters other than education

Numerus Clausus is also a rule that regulates the number of practitioners of a public service in many areas. In the U.S., for instance, it can limit the number of liquor stores to be found in a given geographic area.

In France, it limits the distribution of Public Notaries
Civil law notary
Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are lawyers of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record legal instruments for private parties, provide legal advice and give attendance in person, and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State...

 geographically and, in effect, limits competition for their services (since their fees are fixed by the state). Notaries handle, for instance, title transactions, which is not allowed to lawyers in France. Similar limitations apply to pharmacist
Pharmacists are allied health professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use...

s, and to licensed premises for the consumption of strong alcoholic beverages.

Often, the rule is administered by the corporation or professional body to which the public servant must adhere, but it is also employed by state entities that have the responsibility for assuring the uniformity of a public service across a national geography.


Numerus Clausus is also used in law, property
Property is any physical or intangible entity that is owned by a person or jointly by a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation...

 law in particular, as the principle that the system of estates
Real estate
In general use, esp. North American, 'real estate' is taken to mean "Property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water; immovable property of this nature; an interest vested in this; an item of real property; buildings or...

 allows only a limited number of property rights
Bundle of Rights
The bundle of rights is a common way to explain the complexities of property ownership. Teachers often use this concept as a way to organize confusing and sometimes contradictory data about real estate....

 available in a legal system. The numerus clausus principle has its roots in Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

. In German law the numerus clausus principle has a constitutional foundation and limits property rights in their number (Typenzwang) and content (Typenfixierung). Other European states show equal doctrines.

External links

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