Post one: ambition and multitude of proposed initiatives
The Strategic Agenda covers a multitude of issues and offers plenty of space for the development of new initiatives, thereby progressing on the path towards better quality in higher education. It is thus a rich and ambitious agenda for the future of higher education and research.
The focus of the Strategic Agenda is on educational reforms. The wide variety of possible ways in which quality can and should be working offers opportunities for all players to contribute: there is something for everyone. The international study by CHEPS of “good practices of education” shows that much is happening both within and outside the Netherlands to improve the quality of education.
In the Strategic Agenda there are many potential initiatives listed to increase the quality in higher education. This list of initiatives gives the impression that the higher education institutions should take on many of these initiatives at the same time: more attention to intensive and small-scale education, a stronger connection with research and the region, new educational facilities, internationalisation experience, 21st century skills, etc. (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 17). The question is how these elements are interrelated and if the higher education institutions have sufficient implementation potential to handle this many initiatives at once and excel at the same time. Can the desired quality be guaranteed within this requested level of diversity? Furthermore will the multitude of proposed initiatives not expose the higher education institutions to ‘mission overload’, therefore running the risk of “stretching” its strategic objectives beyond their capacities to respond to these various demands. Particularly in a time when they have to profile themselves by setting strategic priorities, government and institutions have to carefully match their resources with the needs of their most important stakeholders.
That said to suggest that small-scale intensive education, on the basis of many innovations in education, actually leads to better quality education and academic success (see the HEDOCE study and the “good practices of education“ study). It is important that small-intensive education will be investigated. This analysis can be financed with the additional resources allocated for (education) research as set out in the Strategic Agenda (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 37). Concerning the latter, we find in the Strategic Agenda many places where funds have been allocated to these initiatives as well as being held in reserve for future investments. This implies that there is financial fragmentation, which reinforces the points made above.
In the end, the investment agenda in Chapter 5, indicates that eventually 90% of the funds will be added to the lump sum given to the institutions so they themselves can decide on these various initiatives and therefore what priorities they choose (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 85). Being in line with the minister’s thinking that higher education is not a wholesale bazaar or supermarket (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 2), where products can be gathered together, CHEPS believes that the implementation of this Strategic Agenda must look carefully at where the priorities and the promising initiatives are for the minister and the higher education institutions.
Assuming that the ambitions expressed in the Strategic Agenda are carried out, students will now more than ever have the opportunity to enrich and expand their education. They can follow an honours programme and gain international experience. Moreover, higher vocational students should utilise more research skills and university students ought to acquire vocational skills. Finally, there must be space for (extra-curricular) personal development and the self-development of interdisciplinary experience. These various goals require a lot of the students in a limited period of time: 180 or 240 ECTS are quickly filled. Care must be taken to ensure that students are not overburdened with the completion of a degree – such as the mission overload of institutions – but to also leave room for students so that they can follow their desired educational choices. At the same time as this expansion, it is also important to ensure that there is no loss of the specialised knowledge that is required by employers.
Our next reflection on the Strategic Agenda for Dutch Higher Education and Research 2015-2025 will be published on Thursday and focuses on the administrative autonomy of higher education institutions.