The finish line is in sight! Evaluation of the Code of Conduct Higher Education

About a year and a half ago, the Commission and the various umbrella organizations commissioned an evaluation of the text of the Code of Conduct for Higher Education and the implications thereof, making grateful use of input and suggestions from the field. In addition, the functioning of the Commission, the registry administrator, the secretariat and the umbrella organizations was evaluated. In order to ensure that this part of the project would be carried out as objectively as possible, the evaluation was assigned to an external consultant, namely Victor Rutgers of Victor Rutgers Consulting. Rutgers analysed the functioning and responsibilities of these parties and the relationships between them, as well as the role of international students and the ministries of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and Justice and Security (J&V) and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) in the Code of Conduct. Rutgers’ evaluation has led to a number of valuable recommendations, which have been endorsed in their entirety by the umbrella organizations and the Committee. The working group, consisting of representatives of the umbrella organizations and the office of the Commission, subsequently integrated the results of the evaluation, including Rutgers’ recommendations, in a draft text of the Code of Conduct. The policy advisors of the ministries of OCW and J&V and the IND advised the working group on the provisions that overlap with the Higher Education and Research Act (Whw) and/or the Aliens Act and regulations. The draft text was then discussed and, after a number of relatively minor changes, adopted in the decision-making forums of the umbrella organizations and the Commission. The new Code of Conduct will enter into force on 1 October 2022, taking into account the start of recruitment for the new academic year. The new text will be distributed as soon as possible by the umbrella organizations and the Commission. In addition, the text will be published on the Code of Conduct website.

In this article, we would like to inform you of some of the changes that have been made to the text of the Code of Conduct.

Provision of information – section 2
The provision of information to both prospective and current international students is one of the themes of the Code of Conduct. The starting point of the Code of Conduct is that foreign students should have a clear idea of what they are getting into before coming to the Netherlands to study. This does not only concern the choice of study programme, but also the preconditions for successful studying. It is important to prepare students properly and to ensure that their expectations are as realistic as possible. As part of the evaluation, international students were asked what they thought was lacking in the section on the provision of information. The suggestions they put forward were: the situation on the Dutch housing market, taking out health insurance, and opening a Dutch bank account. These suggestions have been added to section 2 of the Code of Conduct. The Committee will include these suggestions in its next periodic survey into the provision of information on the websites of the educational institutions.

Agents – section 3
Section 3 of the Code of Conduct deals with cooperation between educational institutions and agents. This section has been expanded toquality framework prep year include provisions to help ensure a successful and enduring working relationship with the agent. Among others, a separate article has been included on the matters that must be laid down in a contract between the educational institution and the agent. An effective contract will set down the preconditions for cooperation and contain qualitative guarantees. The starting point is that the relationship with the agent must be clearly defined, as must the division of tasks and roles and the requirements. In addition, the cooperation should be subject to periodic evaluation.

Private preparatory education providers – section 4
A new section has been added to the Code of Conduct on private preparatory education providers. This section incorporates the applicable recommendations formulated by the Commission in the research report entitled Voorbereidend Jaar 2020 (Preparatory Year 2020). In particular, it describes that the cooperation between private providers and educational institutions must be structured on the basis of a plan and that the quality of preparatory education must be guaranteed by a quality assurance system. Quality assurance is necessary because private preparatory education falls outside the scope of the Higher Education and Research Act (Whw) and therefore cannot be accredited.

Accredited education – section 6
Section 6 contains a provision on the quality of education offered to international students. This provision states that education must be accredited by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), or by a foreign accreditation organization. This provision has been brought into line with Section 15 1c of the Whw on awarding foreign degrees in the Netherlands. It should be noted that this section still needs to be further elaborated by the Ministry, and the current practice of the Code of Conduct will be continued until that time. This means that the list of foreign accreditation organizations will be maintained until the term foreign legal regulation has been more fully described.

In addition, a new section has been appended that describes the conditions under which preparatory education may be provided. This section also states that preparatory education may not be provided in combination with a limited enrolment degree programme.

Periodic reassessment – section 8
Section 8 includes a new provision that provides for an assessment by the Commission to determine whether the higher education institution still meets the conditions of the Code of Conduct after six years in the register. Three elements are assessed: publication of the Code of Conduct on the website of the educational institution, the language overview, and the accreditation requirement. This new provision is intended to keep the register up to date and ensure compliance.

Establishment of an international student advisory council – section 9
Section 9 of the Code of Conduct lays the foundation for the establishment of an international student advisory council. The reason to form this council is the Commissions wish to pay more attention to the perspective of international students in its work. It is also one of the recommendations made by Rutgers. The purpose of the advisory council is to establish a direct line of communication between the Commission and the international students. It may also help improve awareness of the Code of Conduct among international students. The student advisory council may provide solicited and unsolicited advice to the Commission on all matters concerning the Code of Conduct. The Commission will also involve the advisory council in its reviews of the provision of information in order to incorporate the student perspective in its reports. The Commission believes the advisory council will be able to offer valuable recommendations for improving the provision of information by educational institutions.

The directors’ meeting – section 10
Another of Rutgers’ recommendations was the establishment of a ‘directors’ meeting’, in which the responsible directors of the umbrella organizations and the Commissions chairperson participate. The directors’ meeting will come together at the request of one of the umbrella organizations or the Commission to discuss and debate various issues. Matters related to the Code of Conduct may also be submitted on which a common position must be reached.

But we are not there yet… Review of the language overview – section 5
High on the priority list of provisions to be reviewed is the overview of mandatory language tests accepted under the Code of Conduct. The umbrella organizations have received several requests from language test providers who wish to be included in the overview, as well as requests from educational institutions to update the overview. It was originally the intention to include the review of the overview in the regular evaluation process. Despite our best efforts, this was unfortunately unsuccessful. The process we came up with involves the following: 1) the design of an assessment process, 2) the establishment of objective criteria on the basis of which the language tests can be assessed 3) the establishment of an expert panel. However, the implementation of this process has been delayed, because it has been difficult to find an independent expert to work out and supervise these process steps. The good news is that the umbrella organizations and the Commission are in advanced negotiations with an independent consultancy. It is expected that the review of the language overview will lead to an additional amendment of the text of the Code of Conduct. We will inform you of such an amendment in good time and keep you informed of progress via the Code of Conduct website and the umbrella organizations’ policy advisors.

The diploma list
The diploma list, the document that provides for the possibility of exempting students from the obligation to pass an English language test, is also being evaluated. The diploma list is a separate document referred to in the Code of Conduct and is evaluated in a separate procedure which is coordinated primarily by the umbrella organizations. The educational institutions have suggested several diplomas to add to the list, which will be further analysed (in cooperation with Nuffic and a team of lecturers) to ascertain the final level of English that is assumed to be attained upon completion of each programme. The diplomas will be accepted or rejected for the diploma list on this basis.

We will keep you informed of any new developments regarding the language overview and diploma list by means of this newsletter. If you have any questions about the language overview or the new version of the Code of Conduct in the meantime, you can contact the responsible policy advisor at your umbrella organization. In the event that your educational institution is not represented by an umbrella organization, you can contact the office of the Committee via