Just like its students, EUR has to sit exams of sorts at times. And just like most students, the university gets pretty nervous when it is about to be assessed. The only difference is that EUR doesn’t have to spend hours providing hand-written answers to questions in the concrete jungle surrounding the Van der Goot Building. The university is audited, and this time, the audit concerned the Higher Education Additional Investments Agreement (referred to in Dutch as the kwaliteitsafspraken). When the university successfully passes such audits, it is not awarded credits, but rather many millions of euros’ worth of funding.
Until 2015, all Dutch students received a grant from the government. When student grants were abolished (students now have to take out loans), politicians stated that the money thus saved should be used to make significant investments in higher education. The then Minister for Education claimed that a billion euros’ worth of investments might be able to be made by 2026.
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However, the Dutch universities were not handed nice, big checks immediately after the grants were abolished. All higher education institutions first had to draw up plans outlining what they intended to do with the money, and those plans had to meet a great many requirements. “We started preparing more than a year ago,” said Jeroen Jansz, ESHCC’s director of teaching and an academic director at the Community for Learning & Innovation.
The plans made must ensure that education focuses more on practical examples, skills training and labor market preparation. Investments are also being made in online learning and additional tutors. The living room that recently opened in Tinbergen has been paid for on the basis of these funds. But the exam must first be passed. Jansz thinks it is only natural that the atmosphere is currently tense at all layers of the university, particularly behind the scenes. “We are talking about a lot of money – 75 million euros. In addition, we know that the review panels have issued negative decisions on some education institutions’ plans.”
The day of the audit
Student Luca Kriese is part of the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB)’s Additional Investments Taskforce. This group detailed the faculty’s plans for the Additional Investments funds and prepared them for presentation on the day of the audit. ESSB is one of five faculties required to present its plans to the review panel on this day, the other ones being the Erasmus School of Economics, the Erasmus School of Philosophy, Erasmus School of Law and the Erasmus MC. On the week before the ‘exam’, Kriese attended several meetings to prepare for the big day. “I’m very confident about the whole thing,” he said before the presentation. “We’ve been working on this so hard for so long. We can’t but get this right.”
The review panel spent a day at the university, and spent most of that day talking to many people. The language of communication was Dutch, because that is NVAO policy. Therefore, Luca (who is from Germany) had to use a translation device, which he didn’t mind at all. The review panel had prepared for the day by reading all the reflections, policy documents and plans submitted by the faculties. The panel stated that EUR had submitted a lot of documents – more than other universities had done. “We could tell that they had read the documents very thoroughly, because the questions were often about small details,” said Bieneke Verheijke, an Academic Affairs officer and an Additional Investments coordinator. At the end of a long day, the three faculties were put out of their misery: the review panel stated that it was going to issue a positive recommendation on the plans to the NVAO.
And now we wait
“The positive recommendation is only the first small step we will have to take,” said Verheijke. “It was a very important step, but we will have to wait and see whether the NVAO issues a positive recommendation to the Minister for Education, and whether the Minister then accepts that recommendation.” Verheijke was referring to the situation encountered by Delft University of Technology, where a review panel issued a favourable opinion on the university’s plans, only for an NVAO auditor to issue a negative one. Following a series of negotiations, the Minister for Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, approved the plans after all. The tertiary education institutions need the Minister’s approval to be awarded their share of the additional funds.
Verheijke does not believe that EUR will find itself in a similar situation. “The review panel did not submit any additional questions, so I expect our plans to be approved by the Minister without any problems.” It is as yet unclear when the university will be notified of the Minister’s decision. “We are already implementing some of the plans we drew up in the Additional Investments commitments,” Verheijke goes on to say. “For instance, the skill training sessions at the Erasmus School of Law, and the ten new student mentors appointed at the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management. Many more millions will be invested in the plans over the next few years, both at the centralised level and at the faculty level. We are working on blended learning, more highly personalised teaching, better preparation for the job market, and many other things.” Verheijke also emphasizes that there is still room for students who have good ideas. “Those students can first report to the CLI. There is special room for students with good ideas about improving education.”