Code of Conduct – back to basics

This article provides various background information on the Code of Conduct and related matters. It has been noticeable that ‘ready knowledge’ about the Code of Conduct has faded somewhat in recent years, partly as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as staffing changes. The National Commission  therefore plans to further inform employees of educational institutions about the Code of Conduct in the coming period. Would you like the National Commission office to visit your educational institution to give you and your team further information on the Code of Conduct? If so, please send an e-mail to so we can schedule a visit to you.

What is the Code of Conduct and where does it originate?

The Code of Conduct is a document containing rules of conduct for educational institutions regarding international students. These rules of conduct derive from the agreements made between representatives of educational institutions, represented by the umbrella organizations the Dutch Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), the Dutch Council for Training and Education (NRTO) and Universities of the Netherlands (UNL), on caring for international students. These include agreements on providing information to international students or the language and other requirements they must meet before they can be registered at your institution. The Code of Conduct is a product of self-regulation, reflecting the fact that it is a set of agreements made by and between institutions of higher education. At the same time, the Code of Conduct is also supported by the Dutch government, through the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), the Ministry of Justice and Security (JenV) as well as the Education Executive Agency (DUO) and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). Educational institutions that are signatories to the Code of Conduct commit themselves to the agreements that have been made.

What is the general content of the Code of Conduct?

International students benefit from clear information and a clear range of courses on offer. In the Code of Conduct, educational institutions have laid down the minimum information that is to be provided to current and prospective international students. The Code of Conduct also includes conditions that are laid down concerning the range of courses on offer. In principle, the study programmes and courses must be accredited by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) or by a foreign accreditation organisation in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Dutch Higher Education and Research Act. When it comes to English-taught education, the Code of Conduct also describes minimum requirements regarding the command of English. The Code of Conduct additionally stipulates conditions regarding the collaboration with agents and private providers. The Code of Conduct also states that the educational institutions will inform the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) as soon as an international student no longer studies at the educational institution. Another important aspect of the Code of Conduct is the possibility to submit a complaint to the National Commission. If an international student believes that their educational institution has violated one or more articles of the Code of Conduct and the student has fully completed the internal complaints procedure at their educational institution, the student may submit a petition to the National Commission. An educational institution, or its representative, can also file a petition if the institution is of the view that another educational institution has violated the Code of Conduct.

What is the role of the National Commission and how does the Commission look?

The Code of Conduct stipulates that an independent National Commission will monitor compliance with the provisions of the Code of Conduct by educational institutions. The Commission does so, amongst other things, by initiating investigations and by dealing with petitions that may be submitted by international students or educational institutions. The National Commission consists of an independent chair, two members who are appointed by the Dutch Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), two members who are appointed by the UNL and one member who is appointed by the NRTO. Substitute members are also appointed for all the members.

What is the role of the Education Executive Agency DUO?

DUO has a two-fold role. Firstly, it is designated to act as Register Administrator. DUO assesses applications from educational institutions for inclusion in the Register of the Code of Conduct. It also ensures that the Register is publicly available and up-to-date. Secondly, DUO is responsible for staffing the National Commission office. The office carries out the day-to-day work of the Commission and currently consists of one secretary and two researchers. A covenant between DUO and the National Commission stipulates that they carry out their work for the Commission from a position of independence.

What is the relation between the Code of Conduct and Immigration Law?

Signing the Code of Conduct is a condition for recognized sponsorship for the IND. This is a special position for the educational institutions which enables them to apply for residence permits for students from outside the EU quickly and efficiently. In return, the educational institutions bear responsibility for the student. The government has made signing the Code of Conduct a precondition for granting residence permits to international students from outside the EU. In addition, the Code of Conduct stipulates that international students who require a residence permit must obtain at least 50% of the nominal study load each year in order to retain the residence permit.

Which restrictions apply when taking an online language test?

Article 5.2 of the Code of Conduct includes the language table. This language table includes language tests which are accepted under the Code of Conduct. Accordingly, if an international student achieves a certain minimum score on one of these language tests, the language test certificate can be accepted by the educational institution as sufficient proof of the student’s English proficiency. It should be noted that the educational institution may set higher requirements for the scores to be achieved. Also, if an educational institution has any doubt concerning the language test certificate, it may always ask the student for a certificate of another language test included in the language table, or conduct an online or other interview with the student concerned. It is important that the language tests included in the language table should be taken at a physical test centre. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently the war between Ukraine and Russia have resulted in the decision to make an exception with regard to physical testing. This is described in the Guidelines, which provide for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition test to be taken. Only if a test centre is closed or poorly accessible due to unsafe situations in a country may a student submit the TOEFL iBT Home Edition test as proof of sufficient language proficiency. This extension applies until the review of the language table (Article 4) has been completed. In the meantime, the National Commission calls for restraint in the use of the online language test, stressing that its use should be considered an exception.

How can I use the diploma list?

The diploma list is the result of a collaboration between the umbrella organizations and Nuffic. Strictly speaking, the National Commission plays no role with regard to drawing up or updating the diploma list. The diploma list is nonetheless a tool for assessing whether an international student could be exempted from the obligation to take a language test. It gives an indication of diplomas commonly obtained abroad, with the corresponding level of English. If a student presents a diploma that is included in the diploma list, the educational institution may exempt the prospective student from taking a language test. Please note, however, that there is no obligation to give this exemption. As a result, the prospective international student cannot derive any rights in this regard. The educational institution may always ask the prospective student for some other proof of language proficiency. A review of the diploma list is currently being undertaken on behalf of the umbrella organizations and in consultation with Nuffic. This review is also considering the possible addition of new diplomas to the list.