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Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO)

Part II: Agency reports

Standard 4: The quality management system is based on the quality approach of the higher education institution and provides for the systematic involve -

II.9 Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO)

Stephan van Galen April 2013

1 Terminology, purpose, aim

The Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie (Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders, NVAO) independently ensures the quality of higher education in The Netherlands and Flanders by assessing and accred- iting programmes, and contributes to enhancing this quality.

2 National legislation

The history of the agency

NVAO is the successor of NVAO i.o. (in formation). This organisation was launched after the Dutch and Flemish Ministers of Education signed the Treaty establishing NVAO in September 2003.

The formal ratification process took some time, and so NVAO was not formally established until 1 February 2005. NVAO builds upon the work of the Netherlands Accreditation Organisation (NAO). The NAO was established when the Dutch law on accreditation was published in August 2002.

NVAO is the only organisation that can award the legal status of accreditation.

Higher education institutions can, however, enlist the support of quality assessment agencies. These agencies undertake external assessments and produce reports that the NVAO can use in its accreditation procedures.

Stephan van Galen

Legal framework

On 3 September 2003, a Treaty for the establishment of a bi-national accredi- tation organisation was signed by the relevant ministers of the Netherlands and Flanders. This led to the creation of NVAO i.o. (in formation). The Treaty set out the tasks of NVAO, its form of administration and its supervision. On 1 February 2005, all legal formalities regarding the establishment of NVAO were concluded, and NVAO was formally established.

In the Netherlands, NVAO’s tasks are based on the Higher Education and Research Act (“Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek”).

In Flanders, the operation of NVAO is established by the Law regarding the Structure of Higher Education (“Structuurdecreet”).


The legislation states that NVAO is independent and autonomous. NVAO has to operate within the system as set out in the legislation.

A committee of ministers supervises the functioning of NVAO, but has no power over NVAO’s operations, procedure, methodologies or decision-making.

NVAO has the rule that board and staff members cannot be involved in the processing of applications, or any decision-making, concerning institu- tions that they have been associated with in any form over a certain period.

NVAO staff members are recruited directly or appointed by NVAO. NVAO bears all the labour costs for its work.


The Treaty stipulates that 60% of NVAO’s finances come from the Netherlands and 40% from Flanders. External reviews of programmes are financed by the institutions themselves. These costs are therefore not borne by NVAO.

The income gained from (initial) accreditation procedures is deducted from the amount assigned to NVAO from government funds.

3 Scope

Institutional audits are operational in The Netherlands since 2011. In Flanders Institutional review will commence in 2015. The description of the system of institutional audits below refers to the Dutch system only, as the Flemish

Quality Audit in Europe 2013

system still had to be developed when this article was first written. The aim of the institutional quality assurance assessment is to determine whether the board of an institution has implemented an effective quality assurance system, based on its vision of the quality of education provided, which enables it to guarantee the quality of the programmes offered. Institutional quality assurance assessments are not expressly aimed at assessing the quality of individual programmes.

In essence, institutional quality assurance assessments revolve around five clear questions:

1. What is the vision of the institution with regard to the quality of the education it provides?

2. How does the institution intend to realise this vision?

3. How does the institution gauge the extent to which the vision is realised?

4. How does the institution work on improvement?

5. Who is responsible for what?

These five questions have been translated into five standards. For each of these five standards, the audit panel gives a weighted and substantiated judge ment on a three-point scale: meets, does not meet or partially meets the standard.

The audit panel subsequently gives a substantiated final conclusion on whether an institution has control over the quality of its programmes. This judgement is also given on a three-point scale: positive, negative or condi- tionally positive.

4 Audit procedure

NVAO convenes and appoints an audit panel. The audit panel is guided by an NVAO process co-ordinator and supported by a certified secretary.

The secretary and the process co-ordinator are not part of the panel. The assessment process starts with an executive consultation between the management of the institution and the executive board of NVAO. This consul- tation focuses on the institution’s organisational structure with regard to the education it provides. Based on this consultation, NVAO draws up an ‘accredi- tation portrait’, which is communicated to the institution and audit panel. A critical reflection is written by the institution, addressing NVAO’s standards.

Stephan van Galen

The site visit comprises two components. As a rule, the audit panel starts off by visiting the institution for a day, followed by a second visit after two to four weeks. The institution and the panel may decide to change this arrangement by mutual agreement. The first visit has an exploratory nature. The audit panel gains insight into the ins and outs of the institution, the specific points to draw to the attention of the management of the institution, and the satis- faction of students, teaching staff and other stakeholders. At the end of the first visit, the panel indicates the audit trails to be conducted. Audit trails are studies pertaining to the implementation of policy and/or the management of problems, in which the audit panel follows the trail from the institutional level to the implementation level or vice versa. Once the site visits have been com- pleted, the secretary of the audit panel writes an advisory report that includes the panel’s judgements for each standard and suggestions for im provement.

The advisory report is the basis for NVAO’s decision. This decision can be positive, negative or positive with conditions.

Publication policy

NVAO makes all assessment reports and (initial) accreditation decisions public. NVAO publishes on its website all (initial) accreditation decisions together with the accompanying documents (e.g. the assessment report). Any member of the public can consult NVAO’s database and search by programme, institution, field of study, location, country, level and status (positive (initial) accreditation decision, negative accreditation decision, report rejected).

(Legal) appeal system

Institutions can lodge an internal appeal against an NVAO decision. The Com- mission for Internal Appeal then provides advice to NVAO on which decision to take concerning the internal appeal, following which NVAO will take a new decision.

If the subsequent decision is negative, the institution can take this further by lodging an external appeal against NVAO’s decision with the Admin- istrative Jurisdiction Department of the Council of State in either The Nether- lands or Belgium.

II.10 Swiss Center of Accreditation