Column over het Referentiekader

The Reference Framework as a starting point!


On a Friday afternoon in early December 2021, another lockdown was upon us. Yet, this wasn’t the reason why I was working somewhat tensed, at the kitchen table. I’d been invited to join the Board of Governors’ Committee on Education (BCO) of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. It was an exciting moment. For me personally, because was my first time with this group, but especially because what was on the agenda for the meeting: this meeting was the final step in a process that had been running for several years.

I was dialing in to discuss the ‘Reference framework for privacy and ethics in education data’. The question at hand was whether all universities of applied sciences would want and be able to endorse this framework. A day earlier, the same question was put to a committee of Universities of the Netherlands (UNL).

The idea behind the Framework is simple: if we want to use study data to improve our education, then everyone must have confidence in the way we do this. For that trust to be there, it’s important everyone – students, instructors, researchers, policymakers – knows that and how we comply with legal requirements (e.g. the GDPR). And, not everything that one can do with education data within the legal bounds, is desirable to be done. So, the framework must provide a guidance to hold an honest appraisal, a discussion about ethical aspects must take place, the values we as a sector wish to uphold must be considered.

What should such a framework look like? What should it encompass, what do we agree on together? Together with representatives of research universities, universities of applied sciences, student unions, the Rathenau Institute, lawyers, data protection officers, the Education Inspectorate, DUO, researchers, and experts in the field of privacy, we discussed these questions. We discussed at length how we can best protect the privacy of our students and teaching staff, and what ethical principles must be guiding principles. All those discussions led to the Framework that is now before us on this particular Friday afternoon in December.

During the discussion with the board members, the necessity of the Framework was clearly felt. They were full of praise and felt that the Framework was an important starting point for every institution for working safely and responsibly with study data. A day earlier, the committee of the Universities of the Netherlands came to the same conclusion. The administrators do emphasise, however, that the Reference Framework is a starting point. It’s now up to the institutions to get to work with this Framework. The dark cloud of the lockdown still passed over us, but after a booster shot and a lucky mutation of the virus, the last year of the Acceleration Plan couldn’t have started in a better way. We’re ready to get to work.

Bram Enning
Bram Enning

Teamleader zone Secure and reliable use of education data

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