Last month, on November 26th, the UCSRN Executive Board was invited to a discussion about the quality of higher education in the Netherlands, adding the Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) perspective. Present were several student representatives and Judith Tielen, a member of parliament for the VVD. During this dialogue, we highlighted the importance of  addressing issues of quality assurance, quality sustainability and the transition from Bachelor to Master in parliamentary debates on higher education.

 

Prior to this discussion group meeting, the Executive Board of the UCSRN issued a survey to LAS students. By filling out this survey, we gathered more insights into the sentiments of University College (UC) students about higher education. The survey asked students to evaluate the LAS education in different aspects (including inter alia courses, teachers and majors) as well as what improvements they would like to see in their education. The question that got the most diverse answers was “Describe what quality in higher education means to you”. To some students, it meant that the institution stimulates and generates knowledge, while to others it was more about the value of the professors and their academic expertise and motivation. Students used terms like challenging, inspiring, encouraging and intellectually enriching as well as consistent, authentic and unique to describe their ideal higher education experience. 

Proud AUC Board Members – Justin and Bart

Overall, students rate their education at a University College 8.5 out of 10, and 94% of students are proud to be studying at their respective University College. In this survey, students cited anecdotes about a time when their higher education institution demonstrated excellence, which included instances where lecturers were not only knowledgeable and experienced but also enthusiastic and passionate. Furthermore, students appreciated when their way of thinking was critically challenged by fellow pupils or lecturers, and valued the possibility of developing their own interdisciplinary curriculum, which allowed them to experience personal and academic growth.

 

One of the topics that were discussed, and arguably one of the most important, were the quality agreements for higher education institutions. As a result of the abolition of the Dutch scholarship allowance (basisbeurs), financial resources became available to be invested in the quality of the higher education of the Netherlands from the period of 2019-2024. Several stakeholders have been deliberating about the best ways in which to spend this money adequately, so that it would benefit the quality of Dutch higher education the most. By addressing so-called quality agreements we agreed upon the importance of the sustainability of such a quality. For instance, it is uncertain whether new funds which would be invested in the Dutch higher education will be available after 2024.

“Say cheese Willem!” Left to Right – Bart, Justin, Victoria and Mai Thai

While deliberating, the UCSRN Executive Board questioned how the discussions about the continuance of structural funding (studievoorschotmiddelen), with which the quality agreements are financed, have taken shape in parliament. Overall, this topic is of interest to LAS students too, as the results of our survey showcase that 88% of students believe that there is a need for more financial investment in higher education. Additionally, we asked what the vision of the government is in terms of the quality agreements and their continuance after 2024. In response, we received the answer that such discussions have not yet taken place, as politicians and other policymakers are awaiting the first evaluations by the NVAO on how higher education institutions have used structural funding to improve the quality of higher education. After this initial evaluation round that will reveal the results of the quality agreements processes, they will determine whether higher education institutions will receive additional structural funding after 2024.

 

Furthermore, it was important for us to address the transition from the Bachelor’s to the Master’s on behalf of LAS students. Currently, one of the main hurdles that LAS students are exposed to is that the quality of a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree is misjudged by “regular” universities. This way, it is more cumbersome for UC students to get into a Master’s programme of a Dutch university.. By bringing up this pertinent issue for many LAS students, we hope to see that everyone present at this roundtable discussion and members of parliament keep LAS students in mind when discussing nation-wide transition issues.

 

Ultimately, this discussion was fruitful as we got to share and represent the view LAS students have on quality in higher education – what ‘quality’ means to them and what issues they associate with it. Furthermore, we also got to hear and brainstorm ideas with other student representatives and were able to guide members of parliament towards issues and themes that are pressing to different target groups of higher education, including University College attendants.