Origins of the Idea
In 1999, in his keynote address at the Hogeschool Haarlem, the Inspector General for Education, Ferdinand Mertens, argued for the introduction of a new type of teacher at hogescholen (Mertens, 2001). In the merging knowledge society, the teacher as a ‘routine professional’ would become obsolete. If, he argued, hogescholen were to realize their ambitions, a new type of teacher, an equivalent to the university professor, should be appointed. There was a growing need for ‘innovation-driven’ professionals, continuously driven by curiosity and acquiring new knowledge, and having a critical and reflective attitude.
At the same time, both in national and international policy arenas, the role of knowledge providers in the knowledge society was discussed, including that of ‘hogescholen’ and their counterparts in other countries. At the national level, for example, the committee Kuipers, commissioned by the Association and the employer’s organization VNO-NCW, observed in their report, published in 1999, that hogescholen and industry insufficiently utilized each other’s expertise (Commissie Kuipers, 1999). They suggested that hogescholen should become ‘knowledge gateways’, a knowledge hub for industry, hogescholen, students and teachers. At the same time, the national Advisory Council for Science and Technology (AWT), in cooperation with the
Educational Council of the Netherlands (Onderwijsraad), suggested to transform hogescholen into regional knowledge centres (AWT, 1999, 2001). Knowledge circulation should be improved by more systematically developed networks of hogescholen and industry and in education by adapting curricula to the latest developments in the professions. Graduates should have a different set of skills, being more reflective, critical and analytical thinkers. As the ministry concluded in retrospect, ‘to implement their core task well, providing high-quality vocational education, hogescholen cannot limit their activities to focus on the process of knowledge dissemination only. With respect to the quality of teaching, hogescholen must be engaged in knowledge development and knowledge exchange. This would also contribute to the innovation power of industry’ (MOCW, 2010, p. 10).
Similar opinions were expressed at the European level. Policy views on higher education, articulated in the Lisbon strategy and Bologna process (and in later Communiques) stressed the importance of, among others, hogescholen in strengthening society’s knowledge base. To meet the growing demand for knowledge and innovation, the optimal use of knowledge providers required serious attention. The Lisbon strategy, stressing the pivotal role of knowledge providers such as hogescholen for innovation and economic development, emphasized the importance of knowledge triangles and regional development. In 2000, for example, the Association’s Bachelor Master (BaMa) Committee argued that the introduction of the ‘Bologna structure’ would offer an opportunity for change, for instance, establishing hogescholen as ‘knowledge hubs’ (kennisknooppunten).
Also in 2000, the Dutch minister of education echoed the opinions of the national and international bodies and committees and endorsed in his national strategic plan for higher education the importance of (1) a stronger embedding of hogescholen in (regional) knowledge networks,
- (2) research at hogescholen for improving the quality of education,
- (3) producing graduates with modern skills and (4) staff at hogescholen provided with the knowledge of the latest developments in their vocational fields. The minister was of the opinion that in principle the hogescholen, together with their partners, should address these issues themselves - the hogeschool autonomy should be respected.
The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences,3 the representative organization of the hogescholen naturally participating in this ‘discourse’, discussed these observations, views and suggestions. They decided to further push the idea and became the policy entrepreneur of it. They framed the discussion about the current and future position of the hogescholen. In the report ‘Hogescholen ten years forward’, the chairman of the Association observed a changing relationship between higher education and its environment. There is, he said, a growing demand for knowledge. The emerging knowledge economy demands more highly trained people. And, he continued, processes of knowledge creation, application and dissemination are changing. Boundaries between knowledge providers, disseminators and users are increasingly blurring. This could not be without consequences for ‘hogescholen’.
‘Knowledge outdates so fast that a (higher) education system existing of institutions only passing on knowledge to students acquired elsewhere, is no longer sustainable: the quality of such passive knowledge dissemination, in terms of topicality and applicability, simply decreases. To safeguard the quality of education, institutions must increasingly engage in knowledge acquiring through research and application. They will be forced to penetrate other parts of the knowledge circle. This broadening of the function of education in institutions goes hand in hand with a fundamental change in their traditional knowledge dissemination function. (...) It seems for “hogescholen” inevitable to break through their limited passive knowledge dissemination function’ (Leijnse, 2000, pp. 21-23).
Maintaining or improving quality of education calls for a mission stretch, ‘hogescholen’ should increasingly be engaged in applied research and move away from being teaching institutions only. Hogescholen should, at least to some extent, adhere to the traditional Humboldtian notion of research inspired education.
The chairman, inspired among others by Mertens’ speech, continued by arguing that ‘the composition and competencies of then existing teaching staff of “hogescholen” was far from ideal’ (Leijnse, 2000, p. 34). In the recent past, staff development had not received much attention or had even been virtually neglected. Perceived shortcomings were the unilateral staff profile (teaching only) and the ‘conservative attitude’ towards change. The chairman concluded: ‘for too long the “hogeschool” teacher has been regarded as an elevated upper secondary school teacher who only transfers knowledge acquired elsewhere (...). The function of “hogeschool” teacher needs a thorough revision’ (Leijnse, 2000, p. 37).
At the end of 2000, the idea to strengthen the research function of hogescholen was on the policy agenda. The sector itself (with reservations from some institutions, see below), the policymakers, advisory bodies and employers’ organizations came to believe that the role of hogescholen should change. These actors all expressed in one way or another that establishing a stronger research orientation at the hogescholen as a second core task would be beneficial to the hogescholen and their students, industry and society at large. A stronger research orientation aimed to improve the quality and relevance of education at hogescholen as well as to develop the potential hogescholen have in knowledge exchange processes. Changes in curricula and in attitude and competences of the teaching staff should produce graduates with twenty-first-century skills and enhance the contribution of hogescholen to the surrounding economy. It would mean however a serious cultural change, as hogescholen hardly had any experience with conducting research.