Research into the preparatory year

My name is Jasna Mujakovic, and since September I’ve been the new researcher for the National Code of Conduct Commission. I graduated as an educationalist from the University of Groningen in 2018. While completing my studies I gained experience on the basis of a work experience placement and a subsequent traineeship at the administration office of Noorderpoort Regional Education Centre. Via that route I arrived at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Now I’ve started on a new challenge at the National Commission, where I can further develop my research skills.

The first research project I’ll be working on together with my colleagues and on behalf of the National Commission is a study of the preparatory year. Attention was already paid to the reasons for student dropout in the preparatory year in an article in the newsletter in 2016. The current research project will be focused on acquiring more insight into the structure of the preparatory year and the division of responsibilities between higher educational institution, preparatory year provider and agent.

The preparatory year
In the Code of Conduct the preparatory year is defined as ‘preparatory education – including preparatory language education – with a maximum duration of one year, which is offered to the international student by or under the responsibility of an educational institution in order to allow admission to the regular programme’. When an international student doesn’t fulfil all the requirements for admission to a programme at a higher education institution in the Netherlands, in certain cases it is possible to follow a preparatory educational pathway. One of the conditions for this is that the educational institution ascertains that the student will complete this year successfully and can subsequently be admitted to the main programme. During this year the student works on one or more ‘deficiencies’, which can be in their English language skills, their numeracy skills or their academic level. The aim is to eliminate these deficiencies so that the student is brought up to the appropriate level for the main programme.


Regulations surrounding the preparatory year
The preparatory year cannot be offered to students who are obliged to hold a residence permit in isolation, but is always linked with provisional admission to a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme. The educational institution is the recognized sponsor that applies for the residence permit for the student from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The education that is offered during this preparatory year is not education as defined in the Education and Scientific Research Act (WHW). It is not supervised by the Inspectorate of Education, and it cannot be accredited by the Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). This means that there is no external quality validation. The institution must therefore ensure that the quality is sufficiently assured. Minimum language requirements for all international students are established in the Code of Conduct. Article 4.2 states that a student who wants to go through the preparatory year must have a minimum International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 5.0. If the student wants to go through an accelerated programme (shorter than six months) then a minimum requirement of 5.5 IELTS applies. Article 5.5 of the Code of Conduct also states that a student must successfully complete the preparatory year.

A number of critical messages in connection with the preparatory year have appeared in recent months, and questions have even been asked in parliament as a result. The Commission supervises compliance with the Code of Conduct and looks after the position of international students in the Netherlands. On the basis of this duty it is relevant to investigate how the preparatory year is structured in practice and how the responsibilities surrounding it are divided between the provider and the educational institution. What is more, the preparatory year raises a question for the Commission: are there issues that should be further regulated by the commission in the Code of Conduct? The Commission currently only has limited information in connection with this educational trajectory, and this lack of in-depth information has led the Commission to decide to carry out research into the preparatory year.

Another question that arises for the National Commission is whether this year is also offered to students who apply for a study programme with limited enrolment numbers. After successfully completing the preparatory year the student can still be refused admission to certain programmes because a limited enrolment applies. So it’s even more important that the institution assures itself of successful participation. But how do the institutions do this?

Aim of the research
The research into the preparatory year is being carried out so that the Commission can gain a clearer picture of the chain ‘educational institution – preparatory year provider – agent’. With this research the Commission is also attempting to gain more clarity on the position of providers of preparatory years within the system of the Code of Conduct. There are a number of key questions in the research. How does the recruitment and selection procedure work, for example? In the event that the recruitment is carried out by providers, is it sufficiently clearly regulated who is responsible for the information provision? And what is the legal position of these students?

The research
A number of institutions outsource the provision of the preparatory year to a private supplier. According to the definition in the Code of Conduct this is possible, but it also takes place under the responsibility of the institution. This is connected with the fact that the educational institution is the recognized sponsor of the student, and so retains ultimate responsibility. To gain answers to the questions formulated above it is planned to hold interviews with three private providers that offer the preparatory year to eight partner institutions of higher education. This concerns the following participants:

Providers Institutions
OnCampus Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
University of Amsterdam
Navitas University of Twente
The Hague University of Applied Sciences
Study Group Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Tilburg University
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen

The research programme is made up of three components. First of all a website analysis has been carried out. All the websites of both the providers and the institutions have been analysed with the aim of discovering what information is offered to students. It can generally be said that the institutions’ websites often briefly state that there is the opportunity to take a preparatory year, and then refer to the website of the provider via a link. There the student can find more information on the institution and the city where he or she will take the main programme. There is also information on enrolment, admission requirements and the content of the programme, and also on practical issues such as accommodation and payment.

On the basis of the information acquired from the websites, interviews are currently being held with the providers and the institutions. These interviews are focused on gaining information on the recruitment procedure, the admission procedure, costs, quality and quality control and the duty of care. The third component of the research consists of the analysis of any supplementary documents. Following on from the interviews many contact persons supply a number of documents, such as the agreement that is signed by the student or a handbook on the complaints procedure. Using all the information that has been gathered, it will be attempted to formulate in a final report how the preparatory year is structured, how the responsibilities are divided, whether institutions and providers experience problems anywhere and if the preparatory year is sufficiently anchored in the Code of Conduct.

The Commission aims to publish the final report in the first quarter of 2020.