Blog and opinion
Minister Van Engelshoven: an end to the remorseless focus on output?
Ingrid van Engelshoven has been the Minister of Education, Culture and Science for almost 100 days. I’d already encountered her a few times in ministerial and administrative circles. Is she going to abolish the focus on output?
I’ve known Ingrid van Engelshoven for some time. I don’t think she’s visited other universities of applied sciences more often than she has ours: as Alderman of Education for The Hague, she was a familiar figure here. I really appreciate what she’s doing. She is strongly driven by issues, wants to really understand them, has a definite agenda, and also has the courage (a very important characteristic) to take a stance against commonly held ideas if she’s convinced it’s needed.
Make their own decisions
We’re going to have a lot more to do with her in the coming time. New agreements will have to be made about how we’re going to spend the extra money generated by the new study loan system. We’ve invested more in education in the last few years, and dipped into the reserves to do so. But this has been a pre-investment since THUAS will start receiving more money on a regular basis from the Ministry as of 2019. We’ll have to be accountable for this investment, of course, but we’re already liking what we’ve been hearing from the Minister about how she’s going to arrange this, namely that we’ll be mainly responsible for this among ourselves, as partners. She has said, ‘I firmly believe in making one’s own agreements – among institutions, teaching staff, students and the professional field. And these agreements can easily vary among institutions because the quality of education can have many guises. And this is also why I want institutions to make their own decisions about the goals they have to achieve to make their education even better.’ I could hardly agree with her more. Instead of making new agreements ‘for the Minister’, we’ll be telling her (and, more importantly, ourselves at THUAS) what choices we have made and the results they have generated.
The Minister is striking the right note here and using the right means: she’s not creating any new bureaucracy but allowing decisions made by the universities of applied sciences that relate to their specific needs to have priority in accounting for how the extra resources will be spent.
But this isn’t the most important thing that I’ve heard the Minister say.
A focus on quality
At two separate gatherings, the Minister has said (so she’s thought it out, and it couldn’t be just a slip of the tongue) that she wants ‘to shift the focus from achievements and success rates in the short term to quality in the long run.’ The Minister is rejecting the remorseless focus on output in favour of measures to ensure a sustainable improvement of quality in education. This is really a very important message. Excellence in education means doing justice to the personal characteristics of the student.
Schools – including ours – should be judged on the added value they offer students. Right now, every student is expected to graduate in four years. Taking any longer is seen as failure for both the student and the school. This judgement is often unwarranted: students may want to take time to get a broader or more in-depth perspective or to find the right degree programme. Or they might simply need more time to graduate.
Changing the system
We’re not getting money for students who take longer to graduate, but more will be invested in them. THUAS should be assessed and funded by the Ministry as based on the added quality we provide all of our students. The current ‘system’ of funding that’s hurting the universities in the Randstad has to change. And it can if the Minister really decides to replace the focus on output with a focus on sustainable quality.
My appreciation of what Ingrid van Engelshoven has done in her first 100 days in office is considerable. If she goes down in history as the Minister who got rid of the focus on output, I’ll appreciate her even more. Here at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, we wish the Minister all the best!