Wittenborg Letter Raised in Dutch Parliament

Minister to Answer Questions on Dubious Recruitment Practices at Public Universities

A letter sent by Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences to the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science on the dubious methods some agencies employ to recruit international students for public universities, was raised in parliament by MPs last week via written questions. A reply by the Minister, Ingrid van Engelshoven, is expected in the next two weeks as part of the department of education's budget vote for the next finance year.

Last year, Wittenborg called on Dutch education authorities to look into allegations that recruitment agencies are fast-tracking international students into research universities despite not having a qualification that is equivalent to the national requirement.

Agencies are allegedly recruiting international students who do not qualify for admission to Dutch universities, offering them a costly “transition-year programme”, which is then taken care of by the agencies themselves. However, to comply with the requirements of a study permit, students are registered at partnering universities. Among them are students who do not have the equivalent of a VWO diploma – the general criteria for admission to a research university in the Netherlands. The high school diplomas in many countries like China, Indonesia and Russia only meet the Dutch HAVO level, which is not eligible for entry into a research university. That means Dutch HAVO school leavers are effectively discriminated against as they do meet the criteria.

These dubious practices were also exposed in publications like Onderwijsblad, a publication of the AOb, the Netherlands’ biggest teachers' union, that reported on it. Earlier this year, the National Commission for the Code of Conduct for International Students in Dutch Higher Education issued a report after investigating the matter.

The Commission concluded that universities should make a closer evaluation in estimating whether a student who enters the transition-year programme will actually pass and start with the programme he or she intended. "Our investigation has revealed that 24% of these students don't make it. The commission is of the opinion that, based on the definition in the Code of Conduct, some of these private transition programme providers do in fact act as agents judging by some of their activities. We are asking ourselves if this is a desirable situation."

The commission limited its investigating to three private providers who act on behalf of eight Dutch institutions in taking care of their transition-year programmes. These are OnCampus (on behalf of the University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences), Navitas (on behalf of the University of Twente and the Hague University of Applied Sciences), and Study Group (on behalf of the University of Tilburg, Erasmus University and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen). Navitas is Australian. OnCampus and Study Group are UK based.

The written parliamentary questions were tabled by two CDA-MPs, Harry van der Molen and Madeleine van Toorenburg. The CDA is part of the Dutch coalition government. The questions are posed to Van Engelshoven and the state secretary for justice and security, Ankie Broekers-Knol.

21 Questions

One of the questions is why the minister did not feel the necessity to respond to the letter from Wittenborg and when she expects universities involved to respond to the allegations by giving account to parliament. They also want to know if the minister is going to act against the institutions involved. A full list of the 21 questions posed to the minister can be found here

WUP 9/10/2020
by Anesca Smith
©Wittenborg University Press