University programmes are assessed on their quality every six years. This is done by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) . The so-called programme accreditation is normally very comprehensive, evaluating, as it does, all kinds of things that affect the university as a whole.
Since 2011, however, programmes have been able to apply for an accelerated assessment. In order to do this, their university must have a positive 'institutional audit'.
Accelerated assessment for all programmes
Virtually all universities have now successfully undergone an institutional audit. All university programmes with this positive institutional audit may now take advantage of the accelerated assessment. Should the institutional audit prove negative, then the programmes will then have to undergo a comprehensive accreditation.
The accreditation process
There are three steps to accreditation. Step 1 in the accreditation process is self-assessment. The programme provides its own answers to the three central questions posed by NVAO: What is the purpose of the programme? How will the programme achieve this? Are these objectives being attained?
Step 2 on the path to accreditation is the visit by the panel of experts, the 'assessment procedure'. The panel then writes the assessment report. This is done based on the visit and the self-assessment. The panel assesses the programme and gives it a score of 'excellent', 'good', 'satisfactory' or 'unsatisfactory'. Step 3 is the ultimate accreditation decision by NVAO based on the assessment report.
Accreditation in clusters
Programmes in the Netherlands are predominantly accredited in what are called clusters. These are groups of programmes whose curriculum content is closely related. These programmes jointly appoint the panel of experts. The great advantage of these 'cluster assessment procedures' is that the panel will have visited several programmes, meaning that they are in a good position to gain a full picture of the sector. This last therefore results increasingly often in a state of the art report that describes the quality of the education within a cluster.