Every six years the quality of research institutes and research groups at Dutch research universities is systematically assessed. Universities organise the assessment themselves and appoint an independent international peer-review committee. Next to an overall assessment of an institute, the quality, productivity, viability and relevance of all research groups are evaluated. PhD programmes are also included in this process. In addition to the external evaluation, an internal evaluation of the institutes takes place every three years.
The present research quality assurance system has been in use since the 1990s. Up until 2003, the VSNU had been responsible for organising nation-wide evaluations on discipline level. Since 2003 the universities themselves have organised the research assessments based on the Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP). In this protocol, established by the VSNU, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), emphasis is placed on the international position of institutes and research groups. The protocol is periodically reviewed by an independent expert committee.
All university degree courses are permanently subjected to internal quality control and external assessment. The current system of external quality assurance started in 2002/3 with the introduction of the bachelor-master structure in the Netherlands. All degree programmes have to be accredited by the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organisation (NVAO) to be eligible for recognition and funding by the government. Accredited programmes are listed in the Central Register of Higher Education Programmes (CROHO). Students can only apply for financial support and receive nationally recognised degrees if they enrol in accredited programmes.
Accreditation is granted on the basis of an evaluation report produced once every six years by an external assessment panel. The assessment panel judges the self-evaluation report of the programme under review and carries out on-the-spot inspections. Protocols ensure a transparent, systematic and reliable assessment of programmes in accordance with national and international benchmarks. Failure either to comply with or to meet the standards laid down in these protocols leads to enforced study programme closure. Within the framework of the Bologna process European countries are working towards the mutual recognition of their accreditation decisions.