Six Dutch hogescholen (polytechnics) have come under scrutiny from the auditors after allegedly claiming government subsidies for foreign students who were registered but never attended lectures.
Education minister Loek Hermans was put on the spot after it appeared that a whistleblowing letter sent last June failed to raise an immediate response from the Dutch education authorities.
It took more than two months for the letter to arrive at the right desk and another two before its writer, Peter de Jong, a former polytechnic director, was invited to the ministry and auditors started to investigate the allegations.
Student numbers are an important parameter in Dutch higher education financing. Dutch institutions receive a government subsidy of €4,501 (£2,750) for each full-time student. Tuition fees are €1,600, and one of the issues the auditors will focus on is whether tuition fees for ghost students have been paid indirectly from the government subsidies.
Among the students in question is a group of Belgian students from universities in Antwerp and Brussels. Their contact details were provided by O&O, a brokering agent with whom the six polytechnics collaborated. Hogeschool Utrecht, for example, registered up to 2,000 enrolments through the broker.
O&O, whose association with universities has so far escaped the attention of the Dutch media, dismisses the criticism. It says that it mediates only between students and institutions and that students who enrol through it do so legitimately.
ithat play by the rules face cuts in their own share of national funding as others enrich themselves through creative recruiting.