Column: Malone

A permanent ombudsman required

I recently wrote an article for this newspaper about the Delft International Student Society (Diss) and their ambitious goals for representing the interests of international students, while also facilitating cultural events to bring together Dutch and non-Dutch alike. First, it’s is important to recognize the dual mission of the organization: one is a social mission, organizing events that help students experience different cultures, like the recent Indian Holi event; and the other is administrative, improving the lives of students regarding issues like housing and tuition. But no matter how ambitious, resourceful, and organized Diss is, they’re seriously hamstrung by two important facts: international students are only here for two years, and international students have no full-time representation at the university.

Many Dutch student organizations – like the Student Council or student associations - have full-time boards in which students operate as full-time employees. This means that there’s an entire team of students working every day, with compensation, on the types of projects that Diss members are trying to accomplish on a volunteer basis in their spare time, in addition to their course work and trying to maintain social lives. And let’s be honest, at 12,500 euros a year for tuition, the first priority of an international student is probably their studies. Jonathan Mugerwa, Diss’s chairman, confirmed as much in our recent interview, stating that there’s no international representation on TU Delft’s Student Council because international students prioritize their studies and aren’t particularly excited about spending an extra year in the Netherlands just to be on the Council.

Additionally, Dutch students might be part of the TU Delft community for six years, as opposed to the typical two year involvement of international students. This means that students can get involved in projects and issues over the long-term, which is important because lots of issues aren’t solved in a year or two. For this reason, organisations like Diss are better focused on the social part of their mission, bringing Dutch and international students together to learn about each other’s culture.

For the administrative issues – tuition, housing, insurance, grading, etc. – there should be a permanent ombudsman within the university’s International Office. An ombudsman is a paid, full-time employee that acts as a mediator between the students and the university. Crucially, an ombudsman would first and foremost represent the interests of international students. This would mitigate the two major problems any organization like Diss has: the ombudsman works full-time, is paid, and is here to stay, thus allowing the ombudsman to cultivate relationships within the administration and use those relationships to better affect change on international student issues. Organisations like Diss can still work to give a voice to students and help them get involved, but their work could be much more powerful if they had a permanent advocate within the university administration. TU Delft says that they’re serious about focusing on international students. If this is so, they should seriously considering changing the way that international student voices can be heard by creating an ombudsman.

Devin Malone, a second-year MSc student of industrial ecology, is from Anchorage, Alaska.