Pity pass for TU Delft: minister brushes aside NVAO advice

Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven assesses the educational plans of TU Delft positively enough to reward the university with millions of euros from the student loan system. She brushes aside a negative advice from quality assurance agency NVAO.

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It isn’t often that a minister deviates from an advisory report presented by quality assurance agency NVAO, but Van Engelshoven has decided to do so. TU Delft is one of 15 institutions whose so-called ‘quality agreements’ have been approved by the minister at this point.

TU/e is waiting for the second visit of the NVAO committee within the context of the Institutional Audit Quality Assurance (ITK) later this month. The eight education projects proposed by TU/e will also be considered at that time.

The technical university of Delft can already lay claim on millions of euros during the coming years for the improvement of education. However, it did take an additional letter and an “enlightening” discussion with the minister.

The NVAO had rejected the plans because they weren’t clear enough. In fact, there was “no actual plan,” according to the stern judgement of the NVAO board (which, incidentally, decided to ignore its own committee’s mild assessment).

The minister doesn’t explain why she holds a different view. She only partially answered questions from House of Representatives member Lisa Westerveld (GroenLinks). In a telephone response, Westerveld said that she is disappointed. “What kind of enlightening information did TU Delft provide the ministry with?”

‘Not very correct’

Westerveld doesn’t think it’s “very correct” in any case that she had to learn about the minister’s decision to deviate from the NVAO’s advice in some document. “She could have informed us about that.”

Now that the basic grant has been abolished,research universities and applied sciences universities can expect an additional sum of several hundreds of millions of euros. But the fact that these student loan resources aren’t for free already became apparent this summer: no fewer than 10 out of 23 audited institutions had to redo their homework, said the NVAO.

The allocation of the student loan resources is a sensitive issue because students feel the effect of the cut back and accumulate higher student debts. Therefore, it is important that the money should go where it is meant to go. This is why the ‘quality agreements’ were introduced.

Did not go well

In light of the experiences of previous years, not everyone is confident that everything will automatically work out well. Research universities and applied sciences universities supposedly started investing extra money in education, in anticipation of the upcoming millions. But in 2018, the Netherlands Court of Audit concluded that it is very much the question whether this is actually true.

Westerveld: “Things didn’t go well before, and that’s why I find it particularly disappointing that the minister didn’t notify us.”

In a written reply to questions from the House of Representatives, the minister says that she happens to be the one who makes the final decision, not the NVAO. The advice is a substantial factor, but the minister always enters into a discussion with the institution. “I have, as I did in previous cases, involved both the NVAO’s advice and the view of the institution in my decision-making process. I have clearly not ignored the NVAO’s advice.”

Westerveld hopes that the minister is willing to provide more clarity on the matter. “When you set up such an elaborate evaluation process with the NVAO, the institutions and students, the House of Representatives should be confident that the quality agreements are in order and that they are met. As it stands, I simply can’t assess that for TU Delft.”

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