Universities and universities of applied sciences are getting additional money to – within the agreed upon frameworks – invest in improving education at their own discretion. The institutions, together with the participation council, decide how to spend the money. This allows students and faculty to have an impact on the improvement of their own education.
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In 2015, the basic study grant (Dutch: basisbeurs) was replaced by a loan system. The money that the government saves that way is intended for investments in the quality of education via so-called advances of study funds.
In the document Investing in the quality of education: Quality agreements 2019-2024, agreements were laid out by the Ministry, umbrella organizations of the educational institutions and the umbrella organizations of student organizations (ISO & LSVb) concerning the frameworks within which institutions are allowed to decide how to invest in the quality of education. Six themes within these agreements are key:
• More intensive and small-scaled education;
• More and better guidance for students;
• Study success;
• Educational differentiation;
• Fitting and adequate educational facilities;
• Further professionalization of teachers.
Educational institutions establish their own quality agreements together with the participation council. This allows students and faculty themselves to contribute to the improvement of their own education.
The national framework document for quality agreements was signed by five parties: the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Dutch National Student Association (ISO), and the Dutch Student Union (LSVb).
Institutional board or faculty board
Each educational institution has chosen whether quality agreements are made and implemented at a centralized or decentralized level. Often, they opted for a construction in which both levels are assigned responsibility. The board is responsible for ensuring proper conduct of the quality agreements.
An important part of the national agreements is the so-called horizontal dialogue. The board members in charge are required to involve the participation council – both students and faculty – in the development, execution and monitoring of quality agreements. This can be done at multiple levels within the institution. The participation council has the right to consent to the plan. This means that the institution can only enact the plan once it is endorsed by the participation council. Which layer of the participation council is given this right varies between institutions. It is important that the participation council is aware of how this is arranged within the institution concerned. On the page Guides, you will find the stake of the participation council in the process of quality agreements.
The Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO)
The NVAO is responsible for assessing the quality agreements. The assessment procedure can be found on the website of the NVAO. Additionally, the NVAO is involved in the evaluations of the national process.
Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW)
The OCW Minister of Higher Education is the political entity holding final responsibility for the quality of education of higher education. Following an independent assessment by the NVAO, the OCW minister makes a decision about the process and implementation. Within the framework of quality agreements, the minister is also responsible for the decision to grant (or not to grant) funding for quality purposes.
Process of 2019-2024
The process of quality agreements applies to the period from 2019 to 2024. Every institution, however, has their own important dates. Enquire the board or a policy officer about any confusion regarding these dates. In case they cannot provide a clear answer, please do not hesitate to utilize the page Ask our Experts. Please find information about the different steps in the process below or take a look at the schematic representation in the timeline.
• Step 1: Institutions develop a plan
• Step 2: The NVAO assesses the plan
• Step 3: Recovery year
• Step 4: Duration of Quality Agreements (monitoring)
• Step 5: Funding for Quality Purposes
• Step 6: Assessment of Progression of Quality Agreements
• Step 7: Discount/Comenius
• Step 8: Evaluation
Step 1: Institutions develop a plan
Every institution is required to describe, within their quality agreements, how they plan to invest in all six themes that have been agreed upon nationally. In 2019, the plan of every institution was shared with the NVAO for the first assessment period.
Step 2: the NVAO assesses the plan
The Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) assesses the plan for quality agreements on the basis of the predetermined assessment criteria. For that purpose, an application dossier must be submitted by the institution that includes, among others, plans per investment theme and a multi-year budget. The NVAO-panel pays a visit to the institution and talks with the parties involved. Many institutions combine this assessment with the institutional audit (Dutch: Instellingstoets Kwaliteitszorg). This periodic assessment is independent from the assessment of quality agreements, with the same panel deciding on the assessment. Mid-2020 at the latest, the NVAO board provided their advice regarding the plans of the institutions to the minister of Education, Culture and Science, as they are responsible for the final decision regarding the advances of study funds.
The advice provided to the minister by the NVAO is either positive or negative. When the minister adopts a positive decision in accordance with this advice, the institution can proceed with implementing and monitoring the plans. In case the NVAO provides negative advice, the minister will enter a dialogue with the educational institution in question. If, on the basis of this dialogue, the minister then decides to adopt the negative advice by the NVAO, the institution is required to redesign and resubmit their plans to the NVAO. This is part of the recovery period. This does not have any consequences for the quality funding of the institution yet.
Step 3: Recovery year
If the minister does not approve of the quality agreements plan, the institution will be provided exactly one year to redesign and resubmit their plans to the NVAO. Following this year, the NVAO-panel visits the institution again, after which the panel provides their advice and the minister makes their decision. If the ruling of the minister is still ‘inadequate’, the institution will not be granted advances of study funds for the years 2021 through 2024. If the minister does approve of the plans, the institution will still be granted the advances of study funds.
Step 4: Duration of Quality Agreements (monitoring)
Monitoring of the quality agreements occurs both at the national and local level. At the national level, the umbrella organizations of the student unions ISO and LSVb closely monitor progress and support the participation council when necessary. In addition, the NVAO takes independent stock on the national state of affairs in this period. The planning and results of this evaluation are published on their website.
Keeping track of progress is a challenging process. Institutions establish implementation and monitoring in consultation with the participation council. Do you have any questions regarding the workability or the content of the implementation or monitoring plan at your institution? Please do not hesitate to ask the board for external training facilities or send a message to our experts.
Step 5: Funding for Quality Purposes
In 2019 and 2020, the advances of study funds, exempt from formal conditions, are part of the fixed annual budget of the institution. In this period, the institutions are free to spend this money at their own discretion, or, for instance, put this money aside for the submitted quality plans as described in step 1. Since plans of the institution were assessed by the NVAO until April 2020, the institutions can only receive the advances of study funds for the period 2021-2024 in the form of funding for quality purposes. Added together, the total sum for all institutions in the period between 2019 and 2024 comes down to an amount of approximately € 2,2 billion. The funding for quality purposes increases incrementally every year, rising to approximately € 550 million in 20204. The sector agreements describe how the allocation of these funds came about.
The institution always includes the funding for quality purposes for the period between 2019 and 2024 in (the overall outline of) the budget. The participation council has the right to consent to the outline of the budget. To what extent the funding for quality purposes is specified, varies per institution. In the outline of the budget, the institution works out the multi-year budget as included in the plan (as described in step 1). The amount of money made available per investment theme must always be in line with the quality agreements of the institution. Considering the complexity of assessing the budget, the national agreements contain explicit descriptions about facilitating the participation council. In case the participation council possesses too little knowledge to be able to provide their consent to the outline of the budget, the council has the right to be provided training prior to consenting to the outline of the budget.
Step 6: Assessment of Progression of Quality Agreements
In 2022, the NVAO assesses the execution of the plan up to that point. This is done in accordance with the predetermined criteria, the annual report of 2021, and a reflection by the participation council. The NVAO does not request additional documents and in principle, no visits to institutions occur. The remainder of the advice, decision and recovery occur in accordance with the process that is described in step 2 and step 3, with the exception of the visit by the panel to the institution that is failing to implement quality agreements accordingly.
Step 7: Discount/Comenius
As stated in step 6, the NVAO will assess the results of the implementation of the quality agreements in 2022. If the findings of this assessment suggest that there is insufficient progress in realizing the plan of an institution, the minister will enter the dialogue as well, and the institution is offered the chance to show – within a year – that they are indeed progressing adequately. In the fall of 2023, the NVAO conducts their assessment regarding whether enough progress is occurring on the basis of a reflection by the institution itself, and a reflection by the participation council. If an institution is still not provided an approval regarding the progress of their plans, the amount of advances of study funds of 2024 that exceeds those of 2023 (the net ‘increase’) will be cut. This must not be at the expense of students. For this reason, the institution may still be provided this amount via Comenius grants for excellent teachers. Instead of executing the plans of the quality agreements, the institution can still realize educational innovations for students via the Comenius program.
Step 8: Evaluation
Starting from 2023, the entire process of quality agreements will be evaluated. Via evaluation by the NVAO a panel will once again visit the institutions. This panel will also consider annual reports starting from 2022, in addition to a reflection by the participation council.
Further specification of practical details of the steps are presented in the quality agreements 2020-2024.