Both Dutch student unions ISO and LSVb are opposed to institutional accreditation. Alex Tess Rutten of the National Student Union LSVb calls it a dangerous development.
“It will become incredibly important to get approval: it is everything or nothing. Why would directors be open and honest about it if something goes wrong?”, the LSVb chair says. “It may lead universities and universities of applied sciences to organise an enormous charade in order to get through the assessment, which has little to do with how the programmes themselves are run.”
Will universities perform their own reviews?
Accrediting education programmes? Let us do it ourselves, the universities say. In…
Kees Gillesse of the Dutch National Students Association shares this sentiment, stating: “Once the idea was to decrease the work pressure on teachers, but apparently, we will not achieve this. Then only the arguments of making education more flexible and the issue of ‘ownership’ remain. We do not think you need institutional accreditation to achieve this. There is still plenty of room for improvement within the process of accreditation as it is now.”
The protest movement WOinActie combats high levels of work pressure at universities and demands at least an extra one billion euros to lighten the pressure on staff. Those concerned threaten with all kinds of actions, such as no longer checking student work or participating in accreditations.
Founder Rens Bod hates the air of suspicion that accreditations cause: “I have experienced it myself again during the last six months. It makes people nervous. They receive special training for the visit of the auditors and have to follow all kinds of protocols. Surely, that is strange? You would think: the audit is amicable; you get some suggestions to further improve education. Yet it is often about details, and sometimes minor mistakes can suddenly lead to remedial measures.”
Bod would love to lessen the bureaucratic circus. “It is something Dutch. In Germany and France, for example, the assessments are much lighter in nature. Of course, it is good, for example, to professionalise the ways in which we assess students—that is not what I take issue with. Rather, people now feel that they have to jump through hoops. Surely, that is not the intention.”
Nevertheless, his action group will not lobby for the institutional accreditation. “That won’t necessarily improve the situation. In addition, we prefer to support the student organisations, and they are against.”
For many years, the universities have been deeply invested in the idea of institutional accreditation. The current system “is insufficiently stimulating, work pressure is experienced as high, and it offers insufficient room for new developments,” a note from April last year indicates.
One of the arguments is that institutional accreditation offers more flexibility and ‘space to differentiate between improvement and accountability’. In other words, it enables an open conversation about improving education without the fear of immediate rejection.
Together, all of these factors increase ‘ownership’ and have a ‘stimulating effect’, the universities argue, furthermore decreasing ‘work pressure’. Notably, however, this does not necessarily imply a reduction in the hours required.
Universities of applied sciences
Most universities of applied sciences are less enthusiastic. For example, Ron Bormans, chairman of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, argues that the accreditation of individual programmes offers legitimacy. “Take, for example, a programme like automotive engineering. It is nice if an independent third party, appointed by the government, reviews it and affirms that it is fit for purpose, at which point the experts should look, not so much at the procedures, but precisely at the content and didactics.”
Paul Rüpp of Avans University of Applied Sciences also supports the accreditation of individual programmes. However, he does think that it is time for change: “Now, programmes sometimes start becoming nervous two years in advance. With great effort they produce all kinds of documents that, once the accreditation is over, disappear into a drawer and nobody looks at anymore. I prefer the NVAO to ring us up and say: ‘We will come and visit in two weeks’ time.’ We should be accreditation-ready every single day.”