Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) is ‘sympathetic, in principle’ to the introduction of ‘institutional accreditation’ next to existing forms of accreditation, according to a statement she released last summer. While she acknowledges that it may not reduce the workload for lecturers, “(…) at the same time, there are indications that it may reduce the experienced regulatory pressure, since there is a stronger feeling that efforts actually serve a purpose.”

“Various aspects will need to be thought through and elaborated together with the education sector”, added Van Engelshoven. And that is precisely what she is doing right now. At some point over the next few months, the Minister will be submitting her plans for self-accreditation to the House of Representatives.

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No free rein

Coalition member CDA is particularly enamoured of the opportunities offered by self-accreditation. “The less regulatory pressure there is, the better,” says MP Harry van der Molen. “If institutions constantly pass with flying colours, they should also enjoy some ‘well-earned trust’. Research universities in particular are calling for this measure, and I can agree with this.”

“But we won’t simply be giving them free rein,” adds Van der Molen. “They need to prove over an extended period of time that they are worthy of this trust. And we’ll still have the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) – they’ll be there if something goes awry. And a lot of institutions won’t actually opt for self-accreditation. I prefer to take a practical view. It can complement other forms of accreditation.”

D66 prefers to leave it to the higher education sector. “We don’t object in principle,” says MP Jan Paternotte, “although we do have some questions. For example, to which extent can we still compare degree programmes if they’re evaluated via entirely different processes? And more importantly, right now universities and students don’t see eye to eye: the students oppose the idea. If they can get to agree, they’re welcome to submit a proposal.”

Sceptical

VVD has chosen to await the Minister’s proposal, but fiercely opposed the idea in the past. And they’re still sceptical: students don’t actually choose a particular institution, but a specific programme, says MP Dennis Wiersma. “We need to retain insight into the quality of a given programme.”

As it is, Wiersma doubts whether universities should all offer the same degree programmes. It would be better for them to work from their strengths rather than offer “a patchwork of degrees”. Programme-based accreditation allows you to identify stronger and weaker degree programmes and determine which programmes could be cancelled.

GroenLinks isn’t too enthusiastic either. “One faculty can offer very high quality, while the other is held back by problems,” says MP Lisa Westerveld. “You can’t simply say ‘the entire institution gets a pass’. I understand why people aren’t happy with the administrative burden and the checklist culture, but we can work to improve these matters. We don’t have to introduce self-accreditation to resolve these issues.”

SP also has more faith in the accreditation of individual programmes. “Someone has to drop by every once in a while to go through a few theses and talk with the lecturers and students. We need to keep doing this,” says MP Frank Futselaar. “You can’t replace this with some centralised, institution-wide procedure. Personally, I’m less interested in whether all supervisory systems are in tip-top shape. It’s the end result that matters.”

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