16 April 2018 • HOP, Bas Belleman
Agreement on millions of euros from basic grant: first hurdle overcome
The Minister of Education will be looking from a distance at how universities and universities of applied sciences spend the millions of euros from the basic grant. According to the new sector agreements, staff and student councils and education managers will be able to fight it out among themselves.
The two sector agreements (for universities of applied sciences and universities) were signed in a meeting on Wednesday at the VU Amsterdam University by Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and representatives from universities, universities of applied sciences and student organisations.
The scrapping of the basic grant has caused studying to become thousands of euros more expensive. Higher education will receive hundreds of millions of euros in return which is intended for improving education.
The agreements should lay the foundation for the promised improvement in quality. Two thirteen-page documents set out the form that these ‘quality agreements’ will take. They also spell out the consequences if things go unexpectedly wrong.
The basic grant
Student organisations ISO and LSVb are still fed up that the basic grant has been scrapped. Nevertheless, they are happy with this outcome as it means students will get a greater say. The universities and universities of applied sciences are also delighted, as they will retain their autonomy – ministers will keep their involvement with the arrangements to a minimum.
“It’s wonderful that administrators, students and lecturers will be able to decide for themselves on how the money unlocked through stopping the basic grant will be spent”, she said in her press release.
In the near future universities and universities of applied sciences will set out their “intentions and aims” for more intensive education, better student guidance, good teaching facilities, lecturer training, academic success (including accessibility and equal opportunities) and talent development “inside and outside of study programmes”.
The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) will keep its finger on the pulse, but it seems that the supervision will be toothless. In any event, over the coming two years there will not be any consequences should everything go wrong between educational administrators and staff and student councils. The millions of euros from the basic grant will go to higher education without any further conditions attached.
The NVAO will then look at whether the plans have any support, and whether they comply with the formal requirements and are feasible. The accreditation organisation will not express a view on the substance of the choices. The NVAO will also look at whether everything has proceeded satisfactorily during the interim period and at the end of the journey. Namely, it will look at whether staff and student councils were actually involved and whether the objectives were achieved.
If the educational institute makes a mistake, then the staff and student councils may lose part of the money in 2024. That part will then have to be spent on lecturer’s plans for improving education (via the so-called Comenius grants). However, the reasoning behind this ‘sanction’ is for students not to fall victim if the educational institute makes a mistake.
This assessment by the NVAO should be accompanied by as little bureaucracy as possible. For this reason it has been included in an inspection that the majority of large educational institutions already undergo, the institutional quality assurance audit (ITK). There is a separate inspection for smaller educational institutions that have not opted for this.
What is striking is that for the first time fairly tough standards are been mentioned for supporting the staff and student councils, which incidentally have an important function in these quality assurance arrangements. However, the support is not exactly generous: “Large universities of applied sciences and universities will free up at least 8 hours per week for student members of their central staff and student councils per week and universities of applied sciences with fewer than 10 thousand students will free up at least 4 hours per week.”
Furthermore, the educational institutions can also easily avoid this commitment if they come up with a good story: “A comply or explain principle applies to these minimum standards.”
“We would rather see more hours for staff and student councils”, said ISO president Rhea van der Dong. “However, this is the first step in the right direction.” LSVb president Tariq Sewbaransingh is “extremely proud” of the extra facilities for members of staff and student councils. “This represents a great step forwards, particularly for members of staff and student councils at universities of applied sciences.”