Numerus clausus

Numerus clausus ("closed number" in Latin) is one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university. 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. In historical terms however, in some countries, numerus clausus policies were religious or racial quotas, both in intent and function.

Modern use

The numerus clausus is 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. Students in much of Europe 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, pharmacy, psychology and business administration are particularly popular and therefore harder to gain admittance to study.

Selected examples


In November 2002 the Brazilian government passed Federal Law 10.558/2002, known as the "Quota Law". The law allowed for the establishment of racial quotas at public universities. In 2012 the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil unanimously upheld the law.[1]


The numerus clausus is used in Germany to address overcrowding at universities. There are local admission restrictions, which are set up for a particular degree program (Studiengang) at the university's discretion, and nationwide admission restrictions in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and pharmacy.[2][3] Not all degree programs restrict admissions.[4] The most common admission criterion is the final grade of the university entrance qualification, that is the high school completion certificate formally allowing the applicant to study at a German university. Typically, this is the Abitur. The final grade takes into account the grades of the final exams as well as the course grades. In colloquial usage, numerus clausus may also refer to the lowest admitted grade in this process. Other criteria, e.g. interviews, are increasingly common as well.[5]


The Finnish system of implementing the numerus clausus provides a 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 ylioppilastutkinto), the majority of student selections are based on entrance exams. Most degree programs consist of a single major subject and have their own entrance procedures. Nearly all programs have a quota in which the score is calculated solely on the basis of the entrance exam. The written exams usually consist of open-ended questions requiring the applicant to write an essay or solve problems. Multiple choice tests are uncommon.[6]

In fields where the competition for study places is less fierce. This is especially the case with the engineering and natural science 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, and enjoys a state student benefit. 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).


In 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.[7]


India doesn't allow foreign students to study at all universities and schools. Only a few universities allow foreign students under direct admission or NRI (non resident Indian) or Management quota category. India has complex categories of student admissions and there are no laws which were explicitly written for foreign students. Less than 0.5% educational institutions in India admit foreign students.


Numerus clausus is also used in Ireland. University College Dublin uses the system in its admission for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.[8]


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.[9]

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.

United States

Starting in the 1980s, and ongoing as of 2017, there have been allegations of an Asian quota in college admissions, analogous to the earlier Jewish quota.[10][11]