Higher education prepares people for the knowledge-based economy. To ensure that the innovative power of the knowledge economy remains intact and is strengthened in the future, we will need a high-quality higher education system. It is also important that higher education provides a stimulus for creativity and innovation.
In our recommendations, the Education Council distinguishes between four key points.
Participation in higher education has fallen sharply in recent years. The Education Council believes that there should be no unnecessary barriers to participation in higher education, but also argues that increased participation in higher education should not come at the sacrifice of basic quality. Basic quality is guaranteed by the accreditation system and also by a sound system of examination. The Education Council advocated the strengthening of the examinations committees, assigning greater importance to examinations in the accreditation context, and the formal recognition of prior learning within the diploma framework (Assessment in higher education, 2004; Examinering: draagvlak en toegankelijkheid (Assessment: acceptance and accessibility), 2006; Diploma van waarde (Diploma of value), 2010).
However, to create higher education with an international allure and to keep sight of a ranking in the top five of the knowledge-based economies requires something more than just basic quality. A direct and more integrated drive on quality aspects is essential. In this context, the Education Council gives the express warning that performance indicators should not be confused with quality indicators. Excellence can be fostered by recognising added quality more in the funding system, but the financial resources need to be made available for this. In addition, the Education Council is an advocate of a broad offering of honours programmes for students of above-average talent and above-average motivation (Hoger onderwijs: meer kenniswerkers en betere kennisbenutting (Higher education: more knowledge workers and better knowledge utilisation), 2004; Kwaliteit belonen in het hoger onderwijs (Rewarding quality in higher education), 2007; A successful start in higher education, 2008; Higher education fit for the future, 2011).
The growing numbers of students in higher education result in differentiation in the composition of the population. To meet the differentiated demand, a varied offering for each target group is essential. This form of variation is particularly apparent in the bachelor’s cycle. Developing a broad-based bachelor’s programme that offers the scope for differentiation can contribute to this. The associate degree also has a role to play in the drive towards differentiation.
In the master’s cycle, a closer look at quality and effectiveness would be desirable. Variation in the master’s cycle has more to do with course content. However, the Education Council does not rule out that it may be desirable to introduce differentiation in the level of the tuition fees payable (Bekostiging hoger onderwijs (‘Higher education funding’), 2003)
A strategy aimed at giving institutions a profile also contributes to differentiation. The advice of the Education Council is to ensure a drive towards a broad range of profiles. Content-related profiles achieved by exchanging master’s programmes is one of the options, but an institutional profile based on special attention for a diverse student population (e.g. in Rotterdam) may equally be a valid choice (Higher education fit for the future, 2011).
The Education Council believes it to be of great important that everyone can follow a programme of higher education according to their abilities. This principle plays a role in both access to higher education as well as in later transfers within the higher education system. In regard to transfers within higher education, the Education Council believes it is important to keep sight of the various ways in which students can achieve the same educational position (Higher education fit for the future, 2011).
It is important that senior secondary vocational education (MBO), senior general secondary education (HAVO) and pre-university education (VWO) offer a seamless transition to higher education. The Education Council focuses in particular on graduates of senior secondary vocational education (MBO) entering higher education. The Education Council believes the general right to transfer from senior secondary vocational education (MBO) level 4 to higher professional education (HBO) is very important (A successful start in higher education, 2008; The path to higher professional education, 2009; Higher education fit for the future, 2011).
While the Education Council supports a certain degree of selection, we also advocate good matching. The principle should be that selection is always aimed at finding a better match between the level and profile of the study programme, on the one hand, and the capabilities and motivation of the student, on the other. Following on from good matching, active coaching of students in the initial period of higher education is important to help prevent them from dropping out (Richtpunten bij onderwijsagenda's (Milestones in education agendas), 2008; A successful start in higher education, 2008; Higher education fit for the future, 2011).
Higher education institutions benefit from from a large degree of autonomy. In this connection, the Education Council calls for the removal of a number of legal provisions that limit autonomy. These include barriers to administrative mergers between research universities and universities of applied sciences, and barriers in deciding the place of establishment of study programmes. However, monitoring should take place to prevent the formation of monopolies.
The Education Council published its advice on the issue of whether certain responsibilities could be conferred on or transferred to intermediary sector organisations, such as the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. The Education Council emphasises that no unrealistic targets may be set when agreeing arrangements with sector organisations (see Richtpunten bij onderwijsagenda's (Milestones in education agendas), 2008).
It is important that the state lives up to its responsibilities for the system as a whole. For instance, the state carries responsibility for the educational offering at macro level, and there is no way it can simply foist this onto the institutions collectively (see Higher education fit for the future, 2011).