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Universities strengthen educational quality through sector agreement

Today, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and Minister Van Engelshoven signed the sector agreement on university education. This agreement establishes how the expenditure of student loans will be arranged. These financial resources will be invested in educational quality. In consultation with their representative councils, the universities will set their own quality standards with this respect. The Minister and universities have also agreed to cooperate in promoting internationalisation, combating workload and maximising the impact of research over the coming years. It is important for the universities that the agreement is based on trust and autonomy. Pieter Duisenberg, the President of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), said: 'Dutch universities are among the best in the world. The responsibility for holding on to that success is ours alone. To that end, universities are making targeted investments in educational quality and ensuring that their research, staff as well as students all contribute positively to society.' 


In recent months, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands has been negotiating a sector agreement. This document entails agreements including, but not limited to:

  • the expenditure of student loans. Starting this academic year, the implementation of the Student Loans (Higher Education) Act will free up resources for educational quality. In proper consultation with their representation councils, the vast majority of the budget (90%) can be allocated by the universities themselves. However, due to earlier cost-cutting measures and efforts to improve efficiency, a net budget surplus for academic education will not be available until 2021. Funding from student loans will be applied to support small-scale education, talent development, student well-being and increasing the professionalism of lecturers; 
  • transparency. In light of their accountability to the public, the universities are developing a sector that dashboard they can use to display key figures on education, research and impact. These reports will provide a broad picture of developments within higher education. Regarding the quality standards specifically, the universities will be required to include the status of implementation efforts in their annual reports. There will be a further check on the expenditure of student loans in 2022, followed by an evaluation by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) in 2024; 
  • enhancing impact. Science exerts a considerable positive influence on society. To reinforce and structure this influence, the universities will continue their efforts to strengthen the Knowledge Transfer Offices and foster start-ups. There will also be increased collaboration on major research themes, including through the Dutch National Research Agenda (NWA); 
  • workload. Reducing employee workload is an important priority for the coming years. Regulatory pressure is one source of heavy workloads. To this end, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science will consult with the universities on reducing the administrative burden for programme accreditation; for instance, by offering institutional accreditation instead; 
  • internationalisation. The universities and the Minister share the opinion that international perspectives are extremely valuable. In order to help steer this development in the right direction, the VSNU is cooperating with the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) to draft an internationalisation agenda. This document will address areas of attention such as language, accommodation and outgoing mobility. Alignment with global developments is also in keeping with the position of the Netherlands as a leader in the area of Open Science; 
  • accessibility. The universities are committed to ensuring accessibility, improving the quality of the selection methods and increasing the transparency of the selection process. 

This agreement reaffirms the efforts of the universities to realise the best education and most renowned research in the coming years. Duisenberg: 'While a new era brings new challenges, the Dutch universities have repeatedly demonstrated – for centuries and under all manner of circumstances – that they are equipped to deal with those challenges. The sector agreement will grant the academic community the space required for researchers, students, external stakeholders and administrators to chart a joint course for the future.'


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Ruben Puylaert


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Liselotte de Langen

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