Nieuws - 14 april 2010

Education must pull up its socks

Dutch higher education needs to improve across the board, says the commission on 'The future education system'. Investment is inescapable, according to the commission's advice, which came out today.

Dutch higher education is not ready for the future, thinks the commission led by former minister of agriculture, Cees Veerman. The number of dropouts is unacceptable, the quality of the teaching leaves a lot to be desired, the level of research is dropping, the degree of international orientation is inadequate... just for starters. Something must be done, and soon.
The Veerman commission was formed last autumn by ex-minister Plasterk to take a good look at the higher education system.  Its advice came out today. The commission does not mince its words about the current higher education system. It says it is not flexible enough to meet the rapidly changing demands of students and employers. What is more, the dropout rate is too high and highly gifted students are not being challenged enough. Veerman: 'Higher education gets a grade of 6.5 at the moment, and that must change into a 9.'
One of the commission's main recommendations is that higher education institutions should specialize. This would increase cooperation and reduce the competition for students. Together, higher education institutions would be in a stronger position to attract foreign talent to the Netherlands. Institutions that go for a clearer profile will find that it pays, regardless of their achievements. And this will make them less dependent on the number of students they are able to attract.
Graduates from universities and applied science institutions (the 'hoger scholen') should be awarded the same titles, as long as the transcript makes clear what the person has studied and where. The number of funded Master's programmes in the applied sciences can be expanded, and the two-year associate degree in applied sciences now being experimented with should be formally introduced in 2010.
The commission would also be happy to see universities selecting their students, although they set such strict conditions for this that it sounds more like a recommendation for counselling on degree choice. The idea is to help make sure that students make the right choice.
These are the most striking of Veerman's recommendations, and he indicated that they are intended to suggest the broad lines of future development, and that implementing them will take a lot of work. He warned that the report is not a smorgasbord from which a selection of recommendations can be picked.  'It is a coherent package that can make sure the Netherlands doesn't get out of touch with the best in higher education internationally.'
As for cuts to higher education and research, Veerman declares an absolute taboo on those. He advises the opposite: if you want a fiercely contended place among the global top five knowledge economies, you have to invest. 'You can't have your cake and eat it.' Veerman declines to name a precise figure, 'but a hundred million doesn't cover it'.
Interest groups representing students and educational institutions are positive about the report , which they call a solid and coherent piece of advice on the basis of which the VSNU, HBO council, LSVb and ISO intend to draw up an agreement, much to Cees Veerman's satisfaction. It should be ready by the time the new cabinet is formed.
The NVAO, the Dutch accreditation organization, is particularly pleased with Veerman's plans to profile programmes clearly, in the interests of internationalization for example. 'This is an opportunity for giving programmes and institution a meaningful profile', says the NVAO. / HOP, Hein Cuppen