We had originally planned to start evaluating the Code of Conduct in March 2020. The procedure for this had been established and the letter to inform the educational institutions and government and other stakeholders was ready to be sent. But then coronavirus reared its head in the Netherlands and the Commission felt it was inappropriate to continue with the evaluation. The pandemic demanded (and still demands) additional efforts and creativity from staff of educational institutions to continue providing education and guiding students to the best of their ability. Although coronavirus will continue to have an impact on higher education for the time being, the Commission has now decided to go ahead with the evaluation, but in such a way as to burden the institutions’ staff as little as possible. That means that, contrary to previous evaluations, a written inventory and seminar will not form part of the evaluation. Instead, the policy advisers from the umbrella organizations will interview staff of the educational institutions through the existing consultative bodies. The procedure is explained in more detail below.
Structure of the evaluation
The evaluation is to take place in the period November 2020 to March 2022 by a working group consisting of a representative from the Dutch Council for Training and Education (NRTO), the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Commission’s secretariat. A policy adviser from the IND and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science have been invited to take part in the working group in an advisory role and as reader of the text proposals. The evaluation consists of two parts. Firstly the text of the Code of Conduct will be evaluated and amended where necessary. This will be done in the period from November 2020 to March 2021. In that first round we will restrict ourselves to the provisions of which 1) it is clear they create bottlenecks in the practical implementation by the institutions, and 2) provisions that can be changed easily. More complex topics on which we depend on external parties, or on which no agreement has yet been reached will be taken up in the second part of the evaluation. That second part is set to take place in the period from April 2021 to March 2022. In addition, the second part provides scope to evaluate the functioning of both the Commission and the register management, as well as its relationship with umbrella organizations and the internal relationships, roles and positions relating to the Code of Conduct. We opted for this two-part distinction to remove the bottlenecks in practical implementation as quickly as possible. The objective is to complete the first part in March 2021 (including the administrative decision-making) so that a new version of the Code of Conduct can become effective in September 2021.
This evaluation starts with the topics that have already been identified or the provisions in the Code of Conduct in need of improvement or amendment. These topics will be worked out into text proposals by the working group and an administrative decision will then be taken. If necessary, the proposed texts will be presented for consultation to the involved governing bodies and existing consultative bodies of the umbrella organizations, i.e. the HIB, KBS, UPI, LAO, Mobstacles and LOShbo, in which staff of the educational institutions participate. Complex topics that do not lead to major problems in the practical implementation are looked at in the second part of the evaluation.
Examples of topics:
- A further elaboration in the Code of Conduct of the preparatory year. One of the National Commission’s recommendations in its research report into the preparatory year was that the programme required a more uniform approach and that specific aspects of the preparatory educational programme could be further detailed in a separate article of the Code of Conduct.
- The definitions for educational institutions as worded in the Code of Conduct. The definition requires an institution to be either a funded educational institution or a Legal Entity for Higher Education (RPHO). Foreign institutions wishing to establish themselves here and to offer education to non-EEA students are forced by this provision to seek accreditation by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). The institution must first complete a full cycle of a study programme and subsequently initiate the application for RPHO with the NVAO.
- The definition of both education and agent require further specification.
- The language overview in article 4.2 of the Code of Conduct needs to be updated. Both the umbrella organizations and the Commission’s secretariat have received several requests from providers of language tests asking to add their test to the language overview. It is advisable to draw up objective criteria on which to assess a language test. The Network of University Language Centres will be consulted on this topic.
- By extension, the evaluation will include the exemption from the obligation to sit a language test based on a pre-university diploma as referred to on the diploma list. Article 4.3 of the Code of Conduct contains a reference to the diploma list drawn up on the instructions of the umbrella organizations. The list itself does not form part of the Code of Conduct.
- Article 5.2 of the Code of Conduct, the accreditation requirement, continues to raise questions. The wording must therefore be clarified and, where possible, made briefer. It should be clear what the exact requirements are where it concerns a foreign accreditation. The article should indicate the relationship with the non-exhaustive list of foreign accreditation organizations. Moreover, there are discrepancies between the provisions of Article 5.2 of the Code of Conduct and what has been laid down in the Dutch Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) regarding the granting of foreign degrees. That provision must be brought into line with the provisions of the WHW.
- Further elaboration of the mitigating reasons, as referred to in Article 5.5 of the Code of Conduct. Full-time commission membership will also be a point for attention in this context. In addition it should be possible, under circumstances, to invoke the same reason more than once; this is currently not the case based on the existing text.
When these issues are specified in more detail, the decision will be taken to include them in either the first part or the second part of the evaluation. That will depend on the complexity of the provision and the unanimity of the parties involved about an appropriate amendment.
In addition to the above topics, the Commission feels that it is important that the educational institutions are able to express their experiences of the Commission’s performance and the effect of the Code of Conduct. Those institutions not represented by an umbrella organization are asked to submit their input in writing. Those institutions that are represented by an umbrella organization will be, or have already been, approached by the responsible policy adviser through the consultative bodies referred to above. The ensuing recommendations will be included in the evaluation and worked out in greater detail into a proposal for a new version of the Code of Conduct. We are working hard to complete the first part of the evaluation by the end of 2020 so that the subsequent decisions can be made through the procedures of the umbrella organizations.
We will keep you informed of our progress in this newsletter. You will also be notified once the new version of the Code of Conduct has been adopted.