My thoughts are based on the observation that education systems deeply reflect (whilst themselves enforcing) basic social norms of the society that is hosting the system. So, what might be these basic norms that you can see in the Netherlands?:
a) Dutch people seem quite willing to undergo courses of technical training – in learning to paint, or any other art-form; in learning a sport, even down to my own hobby, running; and they are happy to do this in quite a traditional, technical fashion. [The Anglo-American approach seems to be: get some enthusiasm, go out and do something, see where it goes, but don’t get overburdened by too much constraint by learning too much technique first – maybe much later, if at all.]
b) the Dutch are aware of their “overlegcultuur”. What strikes me is not that there are particularly many meetings (I don’t see it as being markedly more than you would see in the UK or US) but that there is a very different attitude to authority and hierarchy than what is normal to me. My experience in Belgium is that participants in meetings tell the boss/chair what they think he wants to hear, but with little intention of carrying it out, since they have hatched alternative plans in the corridor beforehand. Whereas in the US once a decision is made, people carry it out to the letter, whether they agree with it or not. What seems crucial in the Netherlands is that everyone has had the chance to air their opinion. And they will maintain their opinion after a decision is made. And they hold the right to refuse to go along with decisions, either overtly or secretly. Amsterdammers in particular appreciate this anarchic spirit.
c) conversely, Dutch society seems closed enough to allow small elites to run the show on behalf of the populace (does it go back to the “regenten”?). And these elites are in each other’s pockets. The characteristic form of business, when things go awry, is the cartel [other countries do patronage, corruption; the Dutch do cartels]. Schiphol can be open to other carriers, provided KLM remains dominant; small rail companies can operate a few branch lines in Groningen and Limburg, so long as the NS remains dominant (and heaven forbid that a foreign competitor should have access to the HSL lest they provide something better than the Fyra). And so on, and so on. And despite characteristic (b) above, the masses don’t riot. From my perspective, Dutch people tolerate bureaucratic arrogance, nonsense and incompetence in a way that would be totally unacceptable in the UK. Two recent cases: unemployment benefit being paid incorrectly or very late, and people missing out on care budgets and social services whilst the services get “decentralized” overhastily to councils.
So, how might one construct an improved Dutch higher-education system that is consistent with the grain of Dutch social mores?
(1) The Socratic “Oxbridge” tutorial system, with tutorial groups of 4-6 students and a full, research-active professor (not some junior AiO), where the professor is not speaking ad cathedra, but is a coach – on the same level, but offering expertise and experience and guiding the student towards their own personal goals. Socratic in the sense that it is not top-down, but the coach uses questions to stimulate the student to progress themself. That might fit with characteristic (a). [Of course, for those claiming this is too expensive, they should study properly how this system works: far fewer contact hours per student; far greater responsibility on the student; far greater weekly and monthly written and oral outputs by students in tutorials.]
(2) Clearly, all stakeholders in universities need to have a “forum” where they can air their views. However, a forum or parliament or senate cannot have executive power for two reasons. First, there is no method to make this forum fully representative, and so only the most vocal factions will get their opinions heard. A forum yes, with advisory powers to each department, but nothing more. [In the Anglo-American model, the prevailing idea is that each student-customer votes with his/her wallet; and that cumulatively effects change on the supplier-departments, and it gives every individual an equal voice. But that model seems unlikely to hold any sway in the Netherlands.]
(3) The latest idea from the Dutch minister of education (to take away any bureaucratic control of universities, on the assumption that they can perfectly well run themselves) is a complete nonsense and indicative of characteristic (c) above. And I’d say the current managerialism of Dutch universities is a similar symptom – these managers have no concern for the staff/producers, nor the students/customers, and are hellbent on personal enrichment or self-aggrandizement. [Not that this is an exclusively Dutch failing.]
Personally, I think the HEFCE periodic controls of teaching standards, and the 4-yearly REF are the least-bad options available – there is a semblance of independent assessment. And anything which puts Oxford and Cambridge ranked (for History) into the 20s behind York and Birmingham seems to suggest that it hasn’t been highjacked by the Old Boys Network. The Dutch won’t opt for total freedom, like the private US institutions, and will want the Government to have ultimate control, which is fine; but there needs then to be transparent public control of public money. The key thing is to ensure that teaching and research are assessed on a level playing field by specialists in the discipline, and by arms-length operations, akin to the models operating in Canada, Australia and the UK.