Netherlands Quality Agency (NQA)

The review will evaluate the way in which and to what extent the Netherlands Quality Agency (NQA) fulfills the criteria for ENQA membership and thus the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. The evaluation is scheduled to finish September/October 2018.

Background and context
Netherlands Quality Agency (NQA) is a quality assurance agency based in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands. NQA focuses on providing services to (mainly) institutions of higher professional education. As a(n) (external) quality assurance agency, NQA particularly organizes and co-ordinates assessments of degree programmes on the basis of the formal accreditation framework that has been established by the relevant authorities, the Ministry of Education, Culture & Science and the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO).

NQA originates from the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Science (in Dutch: ‘Vereniging Hogescholen’). In accordance with the amended Act on Higher Education and Scientific Research (2002), assessments of (existing) degree programmes were to be conducted by independent quality assurance agencies. Subsequently, NQA was formally founded December 2003. Since the foundation NQA has performed over 800 assessments of degree programmes (associate degree, bachelor, master) of (mainly) institutions of higher professional education. The results of these assessments are laid down in a report that institutions/educational programmes use to get re-accredited by NVAO.

Assessments are the solid key objective of the activities of NQA. In addition, the company offers a variety of consultancy and training services. Clients of these services are mainly institutions of higher professional education, although also some other (educational) institutions use these services of NQA.

This (first time) application of NQA for the ENQA membership and registration on EQAR focuses on the assessment (audit/evaluation) activities. A thorough (ENQA) review of this cannot be done without a proper view of the Dutch system of higher education and the system of external quality control. An extensive description will be part of the NQA self-assessment report (SAR). In the meantime, we would like to refer to a description by EP Nuffic that gives an introduction to these two elements:

Higher education in the Netherlands
Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at two types of institutions: research universities and universities of applied sciences. Research universities include general universities, universities specialising in engineering and agriculture, and the Open University. Universities of applied sciences include general institutions as well as institutions specialising in a specific field such as agriculture, fine and performing arts or teacher training. Whereas research universities are primarily responsible for offering research-oriented programmes, universities of applied sciences are primarily responsible for offering programmes of higher professional education, which prepare students for specific professions. These tend to be more practice oriented than programmes offered by research universities.

In this binary, three-cycle system, bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees are awarded. Short-cycle higher education leading to the associate’s degree is offered by universities of applied sciences. Degree programmes and periods of study are quantified in terms of the ECTS credit system.

System of external quality assurance
A guaranteed standard of higher education, and alignment with the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area, is maintained through a system of legal regulation and quality assurance, in the form of accreditation. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is responsible for legislation pertaining to education. The agriculture and public health ministries play an important role in monitoring the content of study programmes in their respective fields. Quality assurance is carried out through a system of accreditation, administered by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). According to the Dutch Higher Education Act, all degree programmes offered by research universities and universities of applied sciences must be evaluated according to established criteria. Programmes that meet the criteria are accredited: i.e. recognised for a period of six years. Only accredited programmes are eligible for government funding; students receive financial aid and graduate with a recognised degree only when enrolled in, and after having completed, an accredited degree programme. All accredited programmes are listed in the Central Register of Higher Education Study Programmes (CROHO).

Since January 2011, the Netherlands has a new accreditation system. The process described above still applies, but beginning in 2011, higher education institutions can request the NVAO to conduct an ‘institutional quality assessment’ to determine the extent to which the institution is capable of guaranteeing the quality of the programmes it offers. Programmes offered by institutions that receive a positive evaluation still have to be accredited, but the accreditation procedure takes less time and is not as extensive. The latest developments in the system of accreditation will be effective by the end of 2017. The SAR of NQA will describe these newest adjustments.

Review process
The process is designed in the light of the Guidelines for ENQA Agency Reviews and in line with the requirements of the EQAR Procedures for Applications.

The evaluation procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Formulation of the Terms of Reference and protocol for the review;
  • Nomination and appointment of the review panel;
  • Self-assessment by NQA including the preparation of a self-assessment report;
  • A site visit by the review panel to NQA;
  • Preparation and completion of the final evaluation report by the review panel;
  • Scrutiny of the final evaluation report by the ENQA Review Committee;
  • Analysis of the scrutiny by the ENQA Board and their decision regarding ENQA membership;
  • Follow-up of the panel’s and/or ENQA Board’s recommendations by the agency, including a voluntary follow-up visit.

Review panel
The panel is composed of the following members:

  • Pedro Teixeira, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at University of Porto (U. Porto), Director of Centre for Research on Higher Education Policies (CIPES), Portugal – Chair, academic and quality assurance professional (EUA nominee)
  • Núria Comet Señal, Responsible for Internal Quality and Project Coordinator, Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU Catalunya), Spain – Secretary, quality assurance professional (ENQA nominee)
  • Rudy Derdelinckx, Professor at the University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Engineering, Former Managing director of the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), Belgium – Academic and quality assurance professional (ENQA nominee)
  • Oana Onicas, Masters student (Community Development and Urban Planning), ”Babes-Bolyai” University, Romania – Student (ESU nominee)

This review is being coordinated by Agnė Grajauskienė.

NQA’s self-assessment report is available here.

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