Review committee NVAO praises UU’s education culture

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The review committee of the NVAO, the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders, praises the way Utrecht University is innovating and guarding the quality of its education. If there’s anything left to improve, it’d be being more considerate of the wishes of international employees and students to learn Dutch, and the UU has to take measures on housing for foreign students.

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It’s the second time Utrecht University is participating in the Institutional Audit. The UU first took part in 2012, when the option for this large-scale, thorough quality assessment was newly introduced. Those institutions that get a positive review for the Audit, are then eligible for a lighter form of education accreditation for their study programs.

The university started preparing for the audit in 2016 by conducting an internal audit. In January of this year, the university wrote a self-study about, among other things, the quality guarantees. Early October, members of the NVAO’s review committee first visited the university to get an impression of the UU. They spoke about education in Utrecht with 75 people at the UU, including the Executive Board, the Supervisory Board, deans, teachers, students and council members. The committee visited again this week, stopping by six faculties for in-depth conversations. Those reaffirmed the October results, according to chairman of the committee Frank van der Duyn Schouten while presenting the preliminary report in the University Hall on Wednesday.

Insemination of ideas
“Utrecht’s educational model (small-scale, stimulating education, ed.) stands firm, and is widely supported. Faculties get and take the opportunities to add their own accents and paces within the given frameworks. There’s a clear quality culture with an open approach culture in and between study programs, faculties and the university board. The framework that guides the work is not seen as obstructive, which allows for instance Bachelor-Master 3.0 and internationalization to develop themselves.” The role of rector Bert van der Zwaan is important in this, he says. By sharing his enthusiasm for the UU’s educational vision with various sections and departments, he allows for “an insemination of ideas on different levels within the university”.

The program for digital innovation of UU education, Educate-it, received a separate additional compliment. The commission says this educational innovation works as an accelerant. “Digitalization here is not hindered by the dialectics of lead. It has a dominant position and is well thought out.” The implementation of the ideas, he says, does ask quite a lot of students and teachers, because they don’t have anyone to look up to, or learn from.

Compliments and advice
The statements were followed by many more compliments about the university’s human resources policies, the interdisciplinary cooperation between study programs and faculties, the leadership, the Teaching Academy Utrecht University, the Centre of Excellence in University Teaching, the way the university handles the basic and senior teaching qualifications, the career perspectives within the university’s education, the way internal quality systems are monitored and the culture aimed at improving study programs.

Addressing this last point, he mentioned the improvements that have been implemented in the Criminology master program. In 2012, the committee criticized the way theses were graded. The recovery track that followed the criticism was implemented not only in the Criminology program, but also in all other study programs at the Faculty of Law. He complimented the faculty for the way its culture is aimed at improvement.

The committee did have some advice that “doesn’t have to be taken but comes straight from our hearts,” Van der Duyn Schouten said. The committee hoped, for instance, to see the university keep following the path already chosen in investing in leadership, because they’ve seen how this leads to an improvement in overall quality. Regarding internationalization, the committee asked for an “inviting language policy. Don’t forget employees and students want to learn Dutch.” Another point of care is housing for international students. “Guarantee housing for at least the first few months in the Netherlands.”

The committee advised to cooperate closer together with the informal networks of teachers who work on improving education when developing new policies. And although there are options for careers within and through the path of education, it’d be an improvement to prioritize this more.

Which then led Van der Duyn Schouten to the last piece of advice: “There’s a positive quality culture at Utrecht University. Keep up the good work, and bring it further.”

The definitive NVAO report is expected in the first quarter of 2018.

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