The Hague,

Q&A on the universities of applied sciences’ decision regarding the 2019 NSE

This year, the Studiekeuze123 National Student Survey (NSE) fell prey to certain implementation problems. Serious shortcomings have been found with regard to the quality and reliability of the response data. Regrettably, this discovery has led the universities of applied sciences to decide, after careful consideration, that they will no longer participate in the survey this year.

Why was it decided that the universities of applied sciences would no longer cooperate with the 2019 NSE?
This decision was taken because the response data from the 2019 NSE was determined to be unreliable. As the information in question is vital to students who are about to choose a study programme, the universities of applied sciences wish to avoid any and all doubt in connection with the reliability of this information.

Why is the response data unreliable?
In carrying out the NSE, mistakes were made in programming the questionnaire and as a result, the survey included incorrect degree programme names and the names of programmes that no longer exist. This led to students selecting invalid programmes when filling in the questionnaire. In such cases, the opinions students shared on their programme are not relevant to the degree programme in question because those opinions have been linked to an incorrect/invalid programme.

Who determined that the response data is unreliable?
In addition to the many reports received by the universities of applied sciences regarding numerous mistakes in the implementation of the 2019 NSE, and the fact that students also reported having trouble filling in the questionnaire, Studiekeuze123 itself has indicated doubts concerning the quality of the response data. As a result, Studiekeuze123 arranged for an external investigation into the data quality to be conducted in the interim, the major conclusion of which was that the existing response data is not suitable for publication. A possibility for correcting the data put forth by Studiekeuze123 is not feasible in light of the current GDPR legislation.

Is there no way to revise the response data?
In order to reliably correct the response data, the universities of applied sciences would have to resubmit students’ personally identifiable details to Studiekeuze123. GDPR legislation prohibits this, however, and other potential methods for revising the response data are only partially effective and could never yield absolutely reliable survey results.

Why is this decision being taken so suddenly?
The decision-making in connection with the 2019 NSE was accelerated as a result of Studiekeuze123's recent intention to extend the response period. In such a case, students would be sent a new invitation to take part in the NSE. As there is no prospect of complete revision of the response data, and questions will therefore remain with regard to the reliability of this information, the universities of applied sciences feel it is undesirable to continue the field work. Asking students to participate in the NSE once more, knowing that the results will be unreliable and therefore unusable, would send the wrong message to students.

Was there no way to predict this problem?
At the start of the 2019 NSE, the risk that GDPR-related restrictions might lead to unreliable response data was discussed with Studiekeuze123. It was not, however, foreseen that those restrictions would result in the current widespread problems. On top of this, Ipsos made certain implementation errors while programming the questionnaire (at the behest of Studiekeuze123), which only served to exacerbate the problems.

What will be done with the response data collected from HBO students?
It has been agreed with Studiekeuze123 that the existing response data from students at the universities of applied sciences will be excluded from further processing by Studiekeuze123. The response data is also to be excluded from any subsequent external use or publication. To prevent any and all unauthorised use, the response data will be destroyed.

What are prospective students supposed to do now in order to orient themselves to choosing a programme?
Within the universities of applied sciences, a variety of objective quality instruments exist for the purpose of continually measuring educational quality and the corresponding levels of student satisfaction. It is reasonable to expect that the universities of applied sciences will now also deploy these internal quality instruments to provide information to prospective students. In addition, the results of last year's NSE are naturally still available.

Is it possible to create an alternative to the NSE that can be used this year?
The universities of applied sciences are free to initiate their own alternatives to the 2019 NSE, and will undoubtedly make use of their (respective) existing quality instruments for this purpose. It would, however, be unrealistic to attempt to launch a large-scale student satisfaction survey as an alternative to the 2019 NSE in the near term. What's more, we are unwilling to ask entire student bodies to complete such an extensive survey a second time.

As it now stands, what is the future of the NSE?
The universities of applied sciences attach great importance to reliable information in connection with choosing a study programme. Unfortunately, the withdrawal of their participation in the 2019 NSE is unavoidable. This is not to say that the universities of applied sciences are in any way opposed to carrying out the NSE in the future. The universities of applied sciences are cooperating constructively with student organisations and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to find a solution to the current problems in advance of the 2020 NSE.

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