'FAIR gave us the incentive we needed'

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Are your application procedures for international students as clear as you think they are?

NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences took part in the FAIR project and learned that, as coordinator Marije van de Langkruis explains, “Communication with new students was not as clear as it could be”.

FAIR stands for ‘Focus on Automatic Institutional Recognition’ and was launched in 2015. Aims of the project were faster and better recognition procedures for foreign academic credentials – like secondary school and bachelor's diplomas – and for academic credits. Among the project results is a report, recently published, with practical recommendations for institutions and public agencies.

Initial baseline assessment

Coordinated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, financed by Erasmus+ and carried out by Nuffic, a total of 23 higher education institutions in 6 European countries took part in the FAIR project. After an initial baseline assessment carried out by the European University Association, an independent evaluator, participants received customised recommendations for improving their application procedures.

Among the 4 participating institutions in the Netherlands was NHTV Breda. “Students applying for admission from abroad have to jump through a lot more hoops than Dutch students do”, says Marije van de Langkruis, project coordinator at NHTV. “We knew that, proportionately, international applications resulted in far fewer actual enrolments, and we wanted to know what we could do to close the gap.”

What did the baseline assessment reveal?

“Looking at 100 bachelor's and 100 master's applications, the baseline assessment showed that 92 per cent received an admission decision within 2 weeks. That's excluding selective programmes, in which case it took longer. But clearly speed was not the issue. The problem, it turns out, was the communication. It wasn't entirely clear to applicants how we conduct our admission procedure, for example, or how they can file an objection, or what the Dutch binary education system means.”

What improvements did you make?

“We created a flow chart of the bachelor's admission process showing all the various actors and their responsibilities. Nuffic, for example, which acts as an advisor, the institution, which takes the admission decision, and Studielink. Right now we're also working hard to digitise the application processes linked to Studielink. That will consolidate the process and make things a lot clearer for applicants.”

How has the project benefited NHTV?

“We've gained better insight into how we communicate about our application and admission procedures. Going into this project, we thought our application procedure was totally transparent. But we discovered that the information we were providing was focused mainly on the steps an applicant has to take, and not so much on how we arrive at our decision. This project gave us the incentive we needed. Often, you might want to make improvements, but you just don't get around to it because you are dealing with more urgent issues.”

How does NHTV stack up compared to other institutions?

“Comparison is tricky, because the decision process is different in every country. In Spain, for example, it's local authorities that decide. For us, the way that Ghent University communicates about their procedures was very instructive.”

Did the project live up to your expectations?

“Before it started, we assumed the 23 participating institutions would ultimately formulate a set of common principles to govern admission procedures. But the context in each country is too different, so the focus was much more on our own process. For us, the fact that we were able to translate the insights we gathered into actual improvements was a great positive step.”

Want to read more?

One thing that became very clear during the FAIR project is that recognition procedures for foreign academic credentials differ from one institution and country to another. Binary systems and regional versus national-level decision-making make it hard to design pan-European recognition procedures.

Read more about this in the project report and take a look at the resulting good practices, like Ghent University's behind the scenes informational webpage on its recognition procedures.

FAIR Report‌ (1.7 MB)

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