Every year, the National Commission for the Code of Conduct (NC) conducts a review of the quality of information provided on the website of the six educational institutions that are signatories to the Code of Conduct. In view of the educational institutions’ duty of care, the NC believes it is important to investigate, in consultation with the umbrella organizations, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), the Universities of The Netherlands (UNL) and the Dutch Council for Training and Education (NRTO), how effective the educational institutions are in providing information. The review focuses on the provision of information considered important for international students from the perspective of the Code of Conduct, such as accessibility to the website, how easy it is to find the Code of Conduct, the range of the education on offer, accreditation and finally information provided about services offered, such as assistance in finding accommodation and registering with the local municipality. In order to ensure that the assessment is as objective as possible, the provision of information has been assessed based on predefined parameters.
At the time of the publication of this newsletter, the report on the periodic review was in its final editing stage. It will shortly be made available on the website www.internationalstudy.nl. The general findings are in line with previous investigations. For this reason, the NC would like to take you through the provisional recommendations made in the light of the review to enable you to take a critical look at your own educational institution’s website with these recommendations in mind.
- Make it clear whether the education programme on offer is accessible to international students and what the language of instruction is.
Of all the websites reviewed, almost all of the information is also (or only) available in English. However, this leads to confusion in terms of the differences in education programmes offered for Dutch and international students. The fact that all the information is provided completely in English leads one to suspect that everything is accessible to everyone, but this assumption will not always be accurate. A clear indication of the language of instruction of the programme can prevent misunderstandings.
- Be consistent in the names used to describe the institution and educational offering.
If one compares the educational offering presented on the educational institutions’ websites and the websites of Study in NL, the Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) and in the central register of higher education study programmes (CROHO), it is sometimes difficult or impossible to find an institution or programme. This could be improved significantly if a single designation is used consistently, whether this is in English or in Dutch. Website visitors will be more likely to consider the information to be reliable if different sources provide consistent information.
- Improve the current information concerning accreditation by clearly indicating the accreditation status for each programme.
Many of the websites reviewed provide general information about accreditation and the NVAO. Although this is a very good start, it gives website visitors no clear guidance on the accreditation status of specific programmes. This clarity can however be provided by explicitly indicating the status alongside the programme, possibly supplemented by the accreditation code (ISAT number).
- Ensure that relevant information for international students is positioned in a logical location that can easily be found on the website.
This recommendation would appear obvious: does this not apply to all relevant information anyway? Of course, the answer to this question is ‘yes’. However, the review specifically looked at the duty of care that educational institutions have when it comes to providing information to international students, especially with regard to certain subjects that are particularly relevant. In a range of different cases, it was only possible to find information by clicking several times, looking in a footer or the section intended for staff, for example. Fortunately, the review also revealed numerous examples of best practice that can serve as inspiration.
- Include the complaints procedures for students on the website.
The recommendation made under point 4 applies equally to complaints procedures. In one case, it proved impossible to find any information at all about complaints procedures.
- In addition to information about the institution’s own educational offering, also include information about the Dutch higher education system (including the degrees that can be obtained).
Despite the fact that information about the education offered can be found on all of the websites, it would prove useful to many website visitors if a brief explanation were included of the higher education system in the Netherlands, including the degrees and so on. This will make it easier to contextualize a particular programme and determine whether it actually matches the career path envisaged.
- Clearly indicate whether certain services are or can be provided by the educational institution and what they cost.
It is possible to find a very large amount of useful information about a range of relevant practical issues, such as opening a bank account, taking out health insurance or working while studying. This information is, generally speaking, easy to find and clearly grouped by theme. Helpful tips are provided, useful documents offered and there are plenty of links to relevant bodies and websites. There is often a helpdesk feature that can be consulted for further assistance.
- Include clear information about accommodation and associated problems prominently on the website.
All of the websites provide information about living in the local area, sometimes featuring a range of great tips and tourist advice. But there is hardly any specific reference to the fact that finding somewhere to live is extremely difficult and embarking on a programme in the Netherlands without having a place of residence can lead to significant problems, a lot of stress and huge costs. If only as a means of protecting international students, this information should feature extremely prominently.
The NC hopes that these recommendations will help you to make your educational institution’s website more comprehensive or easier to understand, thereby ensuring that aspiring international students feel well informed before embarking on a study programme in the Netherlands. It has been repeatedly shown by various studies such as the Annual International Student Survey and the Factsheet of the Inspectorate of Education, that the information provided is still insufficient. In general, students feel insufficiently informed. This is a pity and the NC hopes that its investigations and reviews prove helpful in enabling you to take a critical look at your own educational institution’s website.