The current state and future prospects of Dutch education were the focus of a cross-school debate in April 2013, based on a recent report by Empower European Universities (EEU). Hosted by Amsterdam University College (AUC), the debate focused on the contribution of higher education policies to economic innovation in 32 European countries, as highlighted in EEU’s ‘State of University Policy for Progress in Europe’ report.
The Dean of AUC, Marijk Van der Wende, said that her institute had already benefited from the report’s recommendations, particularly those linked to autonomy and the shift in focus from student enrolment to educational quality.
Gerben van Lent, Executive Director of Educational Testing Service (ETS), a non-profit sponsor of EEU, also flagged the need to improve equity and quality, adding that the EEU report was in line with ETS’ mission to promote innovation.
Next before the audience of students, university chiefs and administrators, former Dutch Minister of Education Jo Ritzen stressed that it was more important than ever to support education in Europe.
EEU’s Cécile Hoareau reported that varying performances are dividing the higher education landscape in Europe, with Northern European and some Western European countries taking the lead. She added that although the Netherlands still ranks among the top countries, recent reforms in funding and level of autonomy have weakened its position.
On behalf of the Dutch Government, Ron van de Meer from the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science said that reforms aimed to improve accountability rather than reduce autonomy, stressing that in spite of scarce investments Dutch higher education continues to deliver excellent results.
Adopting a more Eurosceptic tone, Karl Dittrich, Chairman of the Dutch Association of Universities (VSNU), disagreed with one of the report’s key recommendation: that public research funding should be managed at EU level. (Despite the fact that Dutch higher education is among the most successful recipients of ERC funds and European-funded Marie Curie fellowships.)
Thom de Graaf, Chairman of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO), said that although the report focused on research universities, several of its conclusions were also relevant for Universities of Applied Sciences, such as the need to drive innovation. He added that the latter should develop stronger relationships with businesses and the local community.
Will universities remain independent in a context of decreasing trust in institutions? Are we experiencing a paradigm shift in Dutch higher education? If so, what will be the consequences? In a lively debate around these final points, panel speakers shared their views on managing change in a time of austerity.
by Cécile Hoareau, EEU project leader and researcher at UNU-MERIT and Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Images: Flickr / J.Meijer