Commissioned by the country’s minister for Education, Culture and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven, the report by the National Commission assess operations for three pathway providers operating in the Netherlands – Navitas, OnCampus and Study Group.

“Preparatory track is intended to overcome some specific deficiencies, such as the level of language proficiency”

In 2019, the Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences complained that international students had fast-tracked access to Dutch higher education via preparatory courses.

While domestic students must complete a final high school year for university preparatory education, known as VWO, Wittenborg maintained that no preparation year for international students could legally replace the final high school certification.

According to law, universities should only be offering preparatory courses to international students that they deem as having “deficiencies” meaning they cannot be directly admitted, van Engelshoven said.

“I believe that a preparatory track is intended to overcome some specific deficiencies, such as the level of language proficiency or a particular subject,” she said.

However, she added that a broader interpretation where the preparatory year becomes a channel for recruiting additional international students who are not yet admissible, is “contrary to the spirit” of the Higher Education and Scientific Research Act (WHW) and the Code of Conduct.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) reminded that preparatory programs can help students to meet admission requirements if coming from an educational system which does not provide direct entry to Dutch HE.

“Universities can ensure that talented students have access to their educations. Moreover, this can contribute to diversity in the international classroom,” it said.

The education minister made the remarks following questions submitted by Christian Democratic Appeal MPs Tim van der Molen and Madeleine Van Toorenburg.

In September, University of Amsterdam’s student, teacher and employee publication Folia reported that “the UvA is pushing the boundaries in the hunt for international students”.

The Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences – which also runs a preparatory or a foundation program for non-EU students – wrote a letter to van Engelshoven in 2019 which did not initially receive a reply.

After receiving the letter, the National Commission for the Code of Conduct for Higher Education started an investigation, and a report followed in June 2020.

The National Commission focused its investigation on three private providers operating preparatory year courses in the country at eight institutions.

Those studied included OnCampus (for the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam), Navitas (for the University of Twente and the Haagse Hogeschool) and Study Group (for the VU University Amsterdam, Tilburg University, the Erasmus University Rotterdam and Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen).

Educational institutions are responsible for assessing the admissibility of the international students, van Engelshoven said, however the National Commission investigation “makes it clear that in practice private providers are responsible for assessing the study progress of the international student during the preparatory year”.

Institutions in the country must comply with the Code of Conduct in order for their international students to be issued with residence permits from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, she highlighted.

“I am of the opinion that the preparatory courses, certainly for courses with limited training places, for which more than enough Dutch and EEA students apply, should be limited to their original goal,”  van Engelshoven.

In the event that an international student does not meet the requirements for admission, but the institution can eliminate “specific deficiencies”, the international student can be admitted to a preparatory education track, she said.

However, the Language and Accessibility Act, which is currently in the Senate, may affect internationalisation at home strategies, she indicated.

“In that case, it is not appropriate to actively pursue the (commercial) recruitment of students who are not (yet) admissible,” she said.

“Educational institutions are obliged to recruit only students who are admissible to the study program”

“If this were to take place as part of the internationalisation vision of educational institutions, for example with the aim of creating an international classroom, educational institutions may be expected to have developed a policy in advance showing how the recruitment of students takes place in that context and in to what extent this requires the admission of students who are not (yet) admissible,”  van Engelshoven continued.

“In the context of the duty of care, educational institutions are obliged to recruit only students who are admissible to the study program and to carefully inform the students of the relevant legislation and regulations during recruitment and selection. If this does not happen and students are not registered for the preferred course, then the preparatory year is at least improperly used.”

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