Periodic survey into the provision of information
Every year, the Commission carries out a survey into the provision of information on the websites of a number of educational institutions. That might include the provision of information on topics such as the range of programmes and the accreditation of the teaching programmes, student housing, the internal complaints procedures, and the complaints procedure for international students in the Code of Conduct. As with previous surveys, the Commission used a system of standards. On that basis, the survey this year looked at the websites of the Windesheim University of Applied Science, HAS University of Applied Sciences, Wageningen University, Radboud University, TIO University of Applied Sciences and the University of Humanistic Studies. The research report can be found here.
In this extraordinary year, the Commission also looked at the provision of information about the impact of coronavirus on education. All institutions provide information on coronavirus and refer to information (in English) from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Municipal Health Department (GGD). Many institutions closed their doors temporarily or partially. An emergency procedure was made available through the website for those students facing problems as a result of that closure. The websites also listed an overview of frequently asked questions.
Based on its findings, the Commission made recommendations, including the following:
- Ensure that the title of the study programmes causes as little confusion as possible where it concerns accreditation and the language used. Make sure that the titles match the programme title on the NVAO website and CROHO register. Students must be able to find information easily about the study programmes and accreditation. Make sure it is clear what the importance and consequences are of following an accredited and non-accredited study programme.
- Make it easy to find information about the Code of Conduct and the complaints procedure on the website, for example through the institution’s complaints handling procedure. Because students will not always be searching for this topic themselves, it is important that the information is easy to find on the website.
- Make housing information easy to find on the website. Although almost all institutions offer students support or advice on how to find accommodation, this information should be easy to find. The educational institutions could opt to include a link next to their own information leading to a central web page where all relevant information has been compiled. The Annual International Student Survey 2020 showed that it is important to have information on the consequences of coronavirus for international students on one central, up-to-date website in English. This website could be expanded to include information about housing, working, healthcare and registering with the municipality.
Survey into preparatory year using private providers
Various educational institutions offer bridging courses or preparatory education to all students who do not yet meet all the admission criteria, but who are expected to be able to catch up on the established deficits in the foreseeable future. A preparatory programme of this kind could for example relate to the English language, a specific subject or the acquisition of specific skills. Some educational institutions opt to let external parties take care of these preparatory programmes.
The Commission conducted a survey into preparatory education to obtain a clearer view about how this preparatory education is organized. It also looked at the division of responsibilities between the external parties and the educational institutions. The preparatory education we are concerned with here is provided by three external parties for eight educational institutions: OnCampus (for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and the University of Amsterdam), Navitas (for the University of Twente and The Hague University of Applied Sciences) and Study Group (for VU Amsterdam, Tilburg University, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen). In the 2019-2020 academic year, a total of 802 students took a preparatory course for one of the 46 Bachelor’s programmes or 5 Master’s programmes. On average that is 19%, rising to 45% of the total influx of international students of that academic year.
The main conclusion is that there are uncertainties with regard to the interpretation of the law about the admittance to programmes at university level and three-year higher professional education level. The stricter interpretation, which was originally the aim for which the preparatory year was set up, means that the preparatory year is limited to removing a couple of apparent deficits. However a broader interpretation works on the assumption that the recruitment, admission and teaching for a preparatory year offers an possibility to enrol talented international students who otherwise would not be admissible or who would first have to complete the first year of a university of applied sciences and then a bridging course to be admitted to a University Bachelor’s. Institutions make use of that wider interpretation by working from the basis that, at the start of their preparatory year, students have an educational level amply comparable to Dutch senior general secondary education (HAVO), because this is the highest level that is offered in their country of origin. At the end of that preparatory year, students will have attained a level that according to Dutch standards can be compared to pre-university education (VWO).
The agreement that the educational institutions entered into with external parties states that the external party is responsible for the provision of information, the assessment of the admission criteria, the registration of the students and the assessment of the students’ progress. The Commission stresses that these activities should take place under the supervision and within the sphere of influence of the educational institutions, as these activities are in fact their responsibility. In this context the external parties assume the role or job of agent for some activities (what has been contested by involved parties). The study further shows that after the preparatory year, 24% of students fail to move on to the main programme for which they came to the Netherlands. Students are also recruited for programmes for which limited enrolment applies or which select on admission without there being any specific policy for this type of education.
The findings of this research have led to a number of recommendations of which the following carry the most weight:
- Develop policy based on quality of teaching and a strict interpretation of removing deficiencies, and about the desirability of actively recruiting students who are not (yet) admissible.
- Develop policy focused on a clearly designed preparatory programme to be held on campus, in which there can be some scope on certain components for specific aspects relating to the manner of preparation and the study programme, institution or study environment.
- Make clear in the policy how and on the basis of which objective criteria the admissibility of international students is determined. Important in this respect is the role of the diploma evaluation by Nuffic in educational institutions’ admissions procedure and that there is an even playing field for both prospective Dutch and foreign students.
The full research report was published in June 2020 and is available here. The findings have led to several publications and a number of Parliamentary questions. The umbrella organizations have also responded to the recommendations at the request of the Commission. These are published here. There was a mixed response, in particular concerning the strict or broader interpretation when assessing the admissibility of students from preparatory education to programmes at university and three-year higher professional education level. From the replies to the Parliamentary questions, it appears that the Minister is in favour of the strict interpretation. The Commission will therefore meet with the umbrella organizations soon to discuss this. A further point for joint discussion is whether the findings of the survey should lead to additions to the Code of Conduct. This can be done as part of the evaluation of the effect of the Code of Conduct, which is now underway. In the report the Commission has suggested to the minister to have the Inspectorate of Education look into the question whether it is consistent with the admission requirements specified in the Dutch Higher Education and Research Act (WHW), that (international) students are assessed with a prior level of education that has been evaluated as equivalent to HAVO but, after completing a preparatory programme of one year, are admissible for a programme at university or a university of applied sciences if it concerns a three-year course.