Study Centre in Amsterdam and high drop out: the difficult start of TiU’s pre-Bachelor’s program

Study Centre in Amsterdam and high drop out: the difficult start of TiU’s pre-Bachelor’s program

An increasing number of international students attend further training for a year to take up a TiU Bachelor’s degree. It’s not cheap: the private provider of such a crash course charges 13,900 euros for it. Even though only half of the students eventually achieve the binding study advice.

Image Bas van der Schot

A preparatory year, you could also call it a pre-Bachelor’s program. International students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA, the European Union including Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland) who do not meet the admission requirements for a Bachelor’s program can have their knowledge brushed up in one year by private providers. For example, because they do not have a diploma that is comparable to 6 VWO in terms of level. Theoretically, after that year, they are ready to move on to an English-taught Bachelor’s program at a Dutch university.

A report of the National Commission on the Code of Conduct International Student in Higher Education, published in June 2020, shows that there are a number of question marks regarding such constructions, in which Tilburg University also participates. For example, it is questionable whether educational institutions have enough insight into what happens during such a preparatory year, and whether the Amsterdam Study Centre, where international students follow their courses, offers sufficient preparation for studying at a university in another city.

The university is ultimately responsible

Several private providers offer such a crash course to raise the level of international students. Tilburg University, for example, collaborates with Study Group, which charges 13,900 euros for a preparatory year. Agencies such as Study Group are not accredited by the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO). This means, among other things, that the Education Inspectorate has not checked the quality of the mediators’ education or assessed it as sufficient. 

Based on this lack of insight into the working methods of the private providers, the Code of Conduct Commission carried out a quality assessment. The Commission checks the Code of Conduct in Higher Education, which sets out the agreements of higher education institutions about their dealings with international students.

Even though the providers are private companies, the university is ultimately responsibility for students who start a preparatory year. Students from outside the EEA need a residence permit to follow a crash course in the Netherlands for a maximum of twelve months. In order to enable them to apply for a student visa, universities conditionally admit them to a Bachelor’s program.

Parliamentary questions

Last month, the UvA news medium Folia revealed that sometimes friction exists regarding the provisional permits. The UvA also offers preparatory years for studies with a fixed quota (numerus fixus) or selection. In principle, however, conditional admission to such a study program is not possible, which is why, on paper, students are enrolled in another study program. After parliamentary questions by the CDA about the Folia article, Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (Education, Culture & Science) rapped the UvA on the knuckles.

Eligible students are, according to TiU spokesperson Tineke Bennema, “very talented international students who are not, or hardly ever, admitted to university programs because the education systems vary widely internationally”. A preparatory year “offers an opportunity to these students who would otherwise be excluded.”

Holland International Study Centre

Since the academic year 2017-2018, Tilburg University has a partnership with the Holland International Study Centre (HISC), one of the offices of the international education intermediary Study Group. HISC is based in Amsterdam and, besides Tilburg University, also works with the Vrije Universiteit and the Erasmus University. All students who participate in a preparatory year, or an ‘International Foundation Year’ as HISC calls it, follow the course in Amsterdam, regardless of the Bachelor’s program they are preparing for.  

In the HISC brochure (published in 2020) for young people who are considering starting a preparatory year, it is striking that advertising focuses mainly on Amsterdam and its international community. For the students, a room is also arranged at an Amsterdam location of The Student Hotel. Since the students will study there for a year, the photos of Amsterdam canals in the brochure are not illogical. However, it does raise the question whether they will get to know the university of their choice as a result. 

A Bachelor’s that no longer exists

What does the brochure say about Tilburg? In addition to the green campus and the rankings, there is a list of seven TiU Bachelor’s programs in which you can enroll. Three of them at TiSEM, three at TSB. Also a Tilburg Law School Bachelor’s is offered, but something strange can be noted about the latter. According to HISC, students can start with the Bachelor’s degree in Public Governance: Public Administration, Economics and Law after the preparatory year. However, the TiU website says that this Bachelor’s program is no longer offered

Conversely, the information about an International Foundation Year on the Tilburg University website is brief. Although the webpage contains an updated list of Bachelor’s program that can be followed after a preparatory year, it does not appear anywhere that the university has the ultimate responsibility for students who register with HISC.

Direct lines

It illustrates a conclusion drawn by the Commission in its report: there is a distance, both physically and in terms of involvement, between the prospective student who is preparing to enter a Bachelor’s program, the provider of the in-service training program, and the educational institutions themselves.

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Image Bas van der Schot

According to Bennema, no students have been duped by the outdated information in the print material, which must be ready at least 14 months before the start of an academic year. “Employees informed the students concerned that the program (the Bachelor’s in Public Governance, editorial note) was no longer available. She denies that any distance would exist between TiU and HISC: “We have monthly meetings at management level and weekly meetings at operational level.”

Quality of education

Although the Commission did not examine the quality of education offered by providers and focused mainly on the Code of Conduct, it did call on universities to consider the admissibility of international students. After all, they need to assess the chances of advancement to the Bachelor’s degree, even before the preparatory year has begun.

And there’s where the friction arises. Not just in Tilburg, but nationwide. Diplomas of international students from non-Western countries are generally classified at the level of 5 HAVO. This means that students are admitted to a preparatory year that has to catch up with two years of secondary school in one year. Moreover, many of them also have to be prepared for Dutch education, which often has less direct instruction compared to the country of origin.

According to the report and TiU spokesperson Bennema, the university monitors the progress of the talented students during the preparatory year. However, the same report shows that only half of the four students who did a preparatory year through HISC in 2017-2018 obtained the Binding Study Advice (BSA) at Tilburg University in 2018-2019. By comparison, the percentage among non-EEA students without a preparatory year was 81%.

Not a trend (yet)

So there is no real connection of students who have done a preparatory year with directly admitted fellow students, despite the expensive preparation. Bennema says not to worry because there is no trend yet. “Should there be a pattern or long-term high drop-out rate, the university will certainly act in good time.”

A trend can be seen in the number of applicants for a preparatory year: this rose from four in 2017-2018 and 11 in 2018-2019 to 15 in 2019-2020. How these students performed in their first year is not known yet, nor the influence of the coronavirus pandemic on the number of enrollments for the year 2020-2021.

There is work to be done for Tilburg University. The Commission calls on all universities involved to reflect on the desirability of recruiting students who are not yet admissible. In addition, if the institution wants to continue, it is advised to do so on its own campus. The Amsterdam canals in the brochure can then be replaced by the Tilburg squares.

Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel

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