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The re-accreditation process in dutch higher education- an insider perspective

Date:30 May 2022
Panel members first row from the left starting with the fifth person: Prof. Barbara Oomen, Dr. Samuel Abrahám, Mr. Mark Delmartino, Ms. Julia Nabbe, Dr. Henny Romijn.
Panel members first row from the left starting with the fifth person: Prof. Barbara Oomen, Dr. Samuel Abrahám, Mr. Mark Delmartino, Ms. Julia Nabbe, Dr. Henny Romijn.

In this Blog entry you can read about the re-accreditation process in higher education in the Netherlands- a procedure every programme has to undergo every 5 years. I am Johanna, an intern at Campus Fryslân from Germany. To me, the re-accreditation was particularly interesting since I never experienced something like it in German higher education. So I asked my supervisor to let me get a closer look at the process. 

After a study programme has been approved and is officially running, there are quality control check-ins by external panels to see if the learning outcomes of the programme are met and if all parts of the programme align with the criteria for Dutch higher education. The stakes are very high, since the panel is actually deciding whether the programme can continue or if the programme the institution offers is invalid. If you are interested in Dutch higher education and you want to know more about the re-accreditation process, keep on reading!

Preparation: What needs to be done before the on-site visit?

The planning and putting together of the documentation for the re-accreditation starts way in advance of the actual site visit. A great part of the UCF Team was involved in collecting documents and writing a report as well as gathering information about other things the panel requests. The report basically explains what the programme is, how it is built, what the learning outcomes are and how they are met. So simply put, all the information the panel needs explains what a programme is, what the desired outcome is and how the programme achieves these desired outcomes. 

Moving closer to the site visit, the leading UCF Team started to meet with the secretary of the panel more often. This secretary acts as a mediator between the panel and the UCF Team and tries to prepare both sides as much as possible. The thing with these re-accreditations is that you can be as prepared as one can be but you will still not know what the panel might see or criticize. The stakes for the re-accreditation are very high and people really need to control their nerves because if the process of the re-accreditation does not go well this may have consequences for the programme. 

Site-visit: The panel is here- what happens now?

The day before the site visit everyone that is involved in participational positions is excited. Room settings, catering and last organizational meetings are being dealt with. Final plans are being discussed and a lot of final questions from involved staff are coming in and need to be worked on. 

How the site visit works is quite complex: the panel needs to meet with the faculty board, programme management, academic and professional staff, and of course some students and alumni. Those sessions are closed for anyone that is not a part of these selected groups, so not even the UCF management can attend a session that is not meant for them to join. Before each meeting, the UCF Team prepared the group for their sessions with the panel in a short briefing. Topics of those discussions are mostly not topic-related but serve as an option to calm the nerves, talk about concerns and get some last things straight and aligned with the Team 

After the briefing, the selected UCF group meets with the panel in a separate room. Those sessions are led by the panel itself. The panel poses a variety of questions that emerged from the preparatory report and other materials they have. The UCF team then tries to answer these questions as precisely as possible. This can be difficult because sometimes it is just not possible to get your point across, there is a misunderstanding or the information they are asking for cannot be given by the person the panel asks. This is a very intensive situation for the UCF group because they are responsible for representing the programme in the session and to explain elements of the programme cooperatively with the panel. 

After the session, the panel discusses the outcomes in private and the UCF team hasa debriefing moment with the UCF group from the session. They discuss the questions that were asked, the general atmosphere and how they felt about the session. During these sessions, the UCF team needs to be prepared to respond to every need the representatives of the panel have. If they need extra documents or more information on a specific topic, they need to respond immediately and put together the requested information which in case of UCF led to an evening of work for the two main site-visit leaders

On the second day, the described procedure continues for the majority of the day. In the afternoon the panel can request to talk to the programme managers and the board again if they think it is necessary. Mostly this is the case and the UCF Team had to meet with the panel for one more short session to answer some last questions. After that the waiting begins. The panel discusses in private which criteria of the NVAO [= Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie] are met and if the panel wants to advise the NVAO in favor or against the re-accreditation of the programme. In the case of UCF, the panel had to decide as well if the GRL programme meets the standard for intensive- and small scale teaching. If a programme passes these criteria it means that it delivers the value students may expect from a programme that has a higher tuition fee.

Outcome: To what conclusion did the panel come?

After approximately two hours of waiting the panel was ready to announce their decision concerning the advice they want to give out to the NVAO. After a speech by the chair of the panel the decision to advise the NVAO in favor of the re-accreditation of UCF’s Global Responsibility and Leadership programme in their report was announced. Furthermore, the programme continues to meet the criteria for intensive-and small scale teaching, leading to the advice of the panel to allow UCF to continue labeling their GRL programme as such and the tuition fee for the quality of the education students receive. The panel continues to state that they are impressed by the strong community feeling at UCF and the strength of the inclusive mentality staff and students display and convey to others. In the following days there will be a follow-up meeting and the secretary of the panel is going to write a report about the re-accreditation. UCF is going to use this report to apply for their re-accreditation officially at NVAO. Ultimately, the NVAO is going to make their decision on the re-accreditation based on the- in this case very positive- report by the panel. 

As a German educational intern, it was particularly interesting to see how Dutch higher education ensures the quality of the programmes offered at Dutch universities. The amount of work and endurance that goes into a re-accreditation is remarkable and hearing a positive feedback from the panel makes the effort worth it and guarantees the continued quality of the UCF programme