Governance at the university

Universities are publicly funded organisations. This requires a transparent executive board which renders account for its actions, a clear structure of supervising parties and a critical, professional representative advisory council.

Good governors
Dutch universities are governed by an executive board. This board has a maximum of three members, including the Rector Magnificus. While the Rector Magnificus always comes from an academic background, the chair and the third member may come from outside the academic world. The board members of Dutch universities value transparency of and accountability for their actions. In addition to their legal tasks, the board members therefore have drawn up shared values and standards. The principles of good governance are described in the ‘Good Governance’ Code of Conduct.

Clear supervision
The supervisory board of the university supervises the implementation of the duties of the executive board, and supports the executive board with advice. While fulfilling its task, the supervisory board bears in mind the interests of the university as well as the interests of the authorities, institutions and persons involved. The supervisory board is aware of the public task of universities and acts accordingly. In addition to the supervisory board (internal supervision) there are other bodies that monitor the quality of Dutch higher education and research (external supervision). The Minister of Education, Culture and Science, for example, supervises the higher education system in general. The NVAO monitors the quality of higher education institutions and programmes. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and VSNU have jointly developed a Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) for the evaluation of all scientific research in the Netherlands. Scrupulously compiled external evaluation committees are responsible for the six-yearly assessment of all the research institutes and groups at universities. When the performance agreements were formulated in 2012 a new committee was formed in order to monitor the progress of the performance and profiling agreements: the Review Commission for Higher Education (RCHO). The Committee for Macroefficiency in Higher Education (CDHO) supervises the range of programmes offered in its entirety and assesses applications for starting new programmes. Finally, the Inspectorate of Education can initiate investigations on its own initiative.

The VSNU has put all these forms of supervision of university education and research in the Netherlands together in a diagram in order to clarify the system. The diagram provokes the question of whether the supervision of universities is currently optimally organised. The VSNU argues for the simplification of supervision by limiting the number of supervisory parties and clarifying the tasks and responsibilities of the different regulators.

Universities traditionally have a culture that embraces a critical attitude and opposition. That culture is a great good, as well-organised opposition and constructive debate improve the quality of governance. University governors deal with a number of internal parties that initiate opposition against the executive board. Examples of such parties are the central representative advisory council, the student counselling service and the programme committees. The participation in decision-making page describes how participation in decision-making is regulated at universities.


Last updated on 08-02-2016