Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders
The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (Dutch: Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie; NVAO) is the independent educational accreditation organisation for higher education institutions in the Netherlands and Flanders. It was established by international treaty by the Dutch government and Flemish government, for the purpose of ensuring the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders by accrediting study programmes.
The organisation's mission is to ensure the "quality" (defined in official terms) of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders and contribute to its advancement. In addition, it endeavours to contribute to quality awareness and to publicize the distinctive features of study programmes in higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders in national and international perspective.
The organisation pursues its mission by:
- Accrediting existing study programmes in higher education (basic quality assessment).
- Validating new study programmes in higher education (anticipated basic quality).
- Contributing towards promoting the distinctive features of study programmes in higher education or institutions by assessing the specific quality features of existing study programmes at the request of institutions.
- Advancing both the European and the international dimension in Dutch and Flemish accreditation and maintaining international contacts in order to reach agreement and cohesion.
- Performing other commissioned tasks. For instance, providing recommendations on lengthening the master’s degree courses in university education in the Netherlands.
- Contributing to the public debate on developments in higher education.
NVAO wishes to be a proactive partner in higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders. The organisation also intends to fulfil a pioneering role in the development of quality assurance and accreditation in Europe.
In both the Netherlands and Flanders, NVAO engages in intensive consultation with institutions of higher education, experts, umbrella and professional organisations, students, employers' organisations and labour unions. NVAO endeavours to be proactive, to engage in dialogue with institutions, students and the labour market.
Together with noted foreign accrediting agencies NVAO verifies to what extent their policies are based on the same approach and procedures as those laid down in the Dutch and Flemish accreditation frameworks.
In the Netherlands, the tasks of NVAO are based on the "Higher Education and Research Act" (Dutch: Wet Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, WHW) which, in short, comes down to: accrediting existing study programmes, validating new study programmes in higher education and advising on the possible lengthening of master’s degree courses in university education.
In Flanders, the operation of NVAO is established by the "Decree on Higher Education" of 4 April 2003. This decree provides for an international treaty that appoints the body that grants accreditations and carries out the validations of all new study programmes in higher education in Flanders. The decree stipulates that bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in Flanders can only be awarded if they have been accredited, if they have been recognised as a new study programme or if they have received temporary provisional recognition.
The treaty signed by the Dutch and Flemish governments by which NVAO was set up explicitly refers to the international dimension of NVAO’s activities. In the explanatory note the importance is underlined of international transparency and independent quality assurance. The ministers therefore stated that "a well functioning and internationally recognised accreditation system is a prerequisite to advance international comparability in higher education". The choice for co-operation between the Netherlands and Flanders fits in with this international perspective.
Hence, from the outset, NVAO was assigned the task of playing an important role in internationalization. In order adequately to fulfil this international role, NVAO formulated five objectives that outline its international policy. These objectives are:
- Active membership of international networks in accreditation and quality assurance (INQAAHE, ENQA, ECA);
- Promoting the Dutch and Flemish accreditation system and Dutch and Flemish higher education systems in order to strengthen the international position of Dutch and Flemish higher education;
- Mutual recognition of accreditation decisions;
- Promoting a European Higher Education Area in which degrees from accredited programmes are automatically recognised;
- Pro-actively following up on international developments in quality assurance and higher education.
Some commentators are sceptical about the usefulness of NVAO and similar accreditation organs. Thus Bram Delen, student at the KU Leuven even calls it a "classical example of useless bureaucracy", writing in the student paper Veto that the funds spent by NVAO on the "validation" of the work of visitation committees could have been better spent on the core tasks of the university, namely research, teaching and social service.[unreliable source?] Prof. Arnold Heertje and Anne Marie Oudemans have argued, in response to an appeal by Karl Dittrich, Chair of NVAO, that the process bureaucracy of NVAO is swallowing up substantial funds, especially in the field of Higher Professional Education, without producing reliable results. But a full debate on the role and effects of the operation of NVAO has yet to take place.