Research summary: Going Dutch

Law, D. (2016). Going Dutch: Higher education in the Netherlands. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 20 (2-3): 99–109.

Aim:

  • Outline policy issues currently faced by Dutch universities; identify similarities and differences with the UK situation.
  • ‘What happens in Dutch HE must be of interest to policy-makers in the devolved nations of the UK because we are close neighbours and we have similar challenges.’

Data & methods:

  • ‘observational and interrogative’ report focusing on four universities (University of Amsterdam, VU Amsterdam, Leiden University and Delft University of Technology), which the author visited as part of a Study Tour undertaken by members of the UK Association of University Administrators (AUA) in November 2015

Results:

  • The number of UK students taking degrees at Dutch institutions was approx. 2,600 in 2014/15 (compared to 24,000 German students, 7,000 Chinese and 3,000 Belgian)
  • Universities receive funding based on performance, e.g. number of first-year students enrolled, number of degrees awarded
  • Historically, Dutch universities ‘have been comparatively well funded’ in terms of spending per student compared to average for member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but between 2008 and 2014 ‘funding in real terms was relatively stable’ while student numbers increased by 13%, leading to a squeeze on resources such as teaching staff, which can’t be alleviated by increasing tuition fees. This led to the government replacing maintenance grants with a loan system as of 2015/16.
  • In February 2015 student unions and an organisation of students and staff called ‘The New University’ demonstrated against the government’s plans, occupying the Senate House at the UvA.
  • One fear was that Dutch universities were following in the footsteps of ‘recent British experience’ where Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced tuition fees of £1000 in 1999 and this rose to £9000 in a decade. Another concern was the introduction of ‘microbullying’ through publication targets, teaching evaluations, etc. etc.
  • The response by UvA administrators seemed ‘conciliatory’. Their ‘willingness, at the most senior level, to distance the University from government is not something that we [Britons] are used to.’
  • But the path of Dutch universities, the author says, differs from that of British ones: ‘the discussions we held in each of the four universities left members of the team with a sense of contrast between the two systems and not convergence’
  • g. The external peer-review process Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) has similarities to the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). ‘However, there is much more flexibility compared with REF in the UK. Scientific and societal ‘impact’, research policy and management are taken into account, but the results of the SEP … are not used by the government or a central funding body to distribute cash’. Further, recent changes to the SEP ‘will give more emphasis to the societal impact of research and less emphasis on the number of publications’.

Conclusions:

  • ‘The Dutch system is less influenced than the English by neo-liberal ideology’
  • The Dutch government ‘has been much less persuaded of the merits of the market than the UK government’ and privatisation of HE institutions is less pervasive in the Netherlands
  • ‘In general, the UK has a more market-driven system that fosters competition rather than collaboration.’ Dutch universities collaborate well with one another and with other continental institutions, and this is ‘very much part of the internationalisation agenda for Dutch HE. By contrast university administrators in the UK ‘are so concerned to address the internationalisation of HE by looking beyond Europe [that] they seem to forget the advantages of working with European institutions’
  • Internationalisation is approached ‘through a sociocultural discourse, rather than through economic analysis’ [no examples were given so it’s not entirely clear to me what this means!]
  • The Dutch and UK HE systems have some similar strengths and weaknesses but in recent years the political response by their respective governments has differed: Dutch universities are still mainly funded from the state budget ‘whilst in the UK, the state budget has become the source of loans to students to pay most of their tuition costs’.
  • At the Dutch universities under consideration, ‘There was no visible contradiction between being innovative and being state-funded.’

Reader tips: which paper on English in Dutch higher education should I summarise next? Leave a comment!

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