Education Inspectorate raising a banner for better staff-student participation

Consultative bodies are a very important source of information for higher education institutions. But due to issues such as low election turnout, the Inspectorate of Education is warning that this source is in danger of drying up.

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Today the Inspectorate published its annual report ‘The State of Education’. In this document, the Inspectorate takes stock of the situation: how is education sector doing and where is there room for improvement?

The authors review the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to cybercrime and the functioning of staff-student consultative bodies in higher education. All three areas give cause for concern, the Inspectorate concludes.


Students and staff elected to consultative bodies enter into a dialogue with the executive about key issues at their institutions. “An effective consultative body can be an important source of information, exposing risks before they escalate”, the authors write. After all, students and staff know from their own experience what is going on at their university.

But low election turnouts are posing a serious threat to these internal checks and balances. This forms a “risk to the functioning of the consultative process and therefore to the provision of information to the executive”, the Inspectorate argues. At TU/e, in the December elections for members of the university council, the turnout rate fell below 30 percent for the first time in a long time.

This is not the first time that alarm bells have sounded about staff-student participation. Election turnouts have been declining for years and the support given to consultative bodies also leaves something to be desired, Berenschot’s study has shown.

Earlier this year, education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf announced that he did not see any reason to intervene at present. He is leaving it up to the institutions themselves to provide the right support.


Cybercrime is another component of risk management in need of attention, according to the Inspectorate. In recent years, several educational institutions have been targeted by cyber criminals who hacked into their systems and demanded a ransom. Last year, the Inspectorate proposed that the government should take control of the situation, and today’s report also warns that more direction and collaboration is required in this area.

English in higher professional education?

The Inspectorate also takes note of the growing influence of English in the Dutch higher education sector. English is becoming increasingly common as the language of instruction at universities, partly due to the rising numbers of international students.

While this has its advantages, the authors point out the difficulties this can create for students and lecturers who have a weaker command of the English language. The go on to warn that excessive reliance on English could become an “unintentional method of selection” and scare away future students.

The Inspectorate also points out the lack of clear information on the number of higher professional education programmes taught in languages other than Dutch, and wants to see an overview published “in the short term”.

Distance education

The authors also do not fail to mention the coronavirus pandemic in their annual report. Students experienced problems with loneliness and lack of motivation, while teaching staff were saddled with increased pressure at work.

But the pandemic was also productive: it accelerated the digitisation of teaching, led to improvements in IT infrastructure and expanded lecturers’ expertise. As you might expect, educational institutions are keen to maintain these benefits, and with this in mind the Inspectorate emphasises the need for them to develop an “up-to-date vision of digital education”.

This must include a well-considered weighing of the pros and cons of distance education. “If this is done effectively, students will be able to benefit from higher education that is not only better quality but also more flexible.”

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