These findings are in the biennial staff-student participation monitor compiled by researchers at Oberon for the Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO). Roughly 1,800 students and staff who sit on committees and councils voiced their opinions. Students and staff on participation bodies contribute to discussions on all kinds of issues, such as coronavirus restrictions, real estate investments, programme curricula and budget allocation.
Are they generally satisfied with the influence of their board or committee? Yes, says 34 percent in universities op applied sciences (HBO) and 32 percent in university education. But the researchers asked many more questions, for example about the directors, the remuneration, the facilities and so on.
It’s quite noticeable in the current monitor that HBO often scores a bit higher. For example, 72 percent of those in professional education are ‘satisfied’ about how boards function in relation to staff-student participation, but at universities that figure is 70 percent. Members of participation bodies at universities of applied sciences are also a bit more positive about the support services they can access. This refers to such things as legal support, training courses and the possibility of consulting with experts.
The only exception is support for non-Dutch speaking members of participation bodies who need documents translated, for example. This kind of support is better organised at universities. Academic institutions simply have higher numbers of international students and lecturers on campus.
It’s noteworthy that members take fewer training courses now than previously. Just under half the council members surveyed said that they had taken a training course in the past year. In academic education it went from 56 to 48 percent, while in HBO it went from 50 to 47 percent. This may have been caused by Covid-19 woes, but equally because these people didn’t know that they could enrol in training courses.
“I think it’s a case of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’”, says ISO chairperson Lisanne de Roos. “You only know how essential support is when you can reap the benefits.”
And do the members feel that they are having an impact? That can be disappointing. Since 2017, for example, members of the central staff-student participation body have been given the right to approve major budgetary items. This was accompanied by high expectations – after all, it had been a hard political fight. It was coupled with the disappearance of the basic student grant: students were getting less money but more influence. If committee members want to, they can dig in their heels. And yet only 45 percent in both applied sciences and academic universities believe they have sufficient influence.
- Also read this letter from the Chairman of the Works Council of the TU Delft, Menno Blaauw: ‘It’s not going that badly with employee participation’
Educational historian Pieter Slaman also stated earlier that he was critical. “Before, as a Student Council member, you really were co-administering. Now the Executive Board can easily prepare policy in advance and present it to the Council. At some universities, they work on it down to the very last detail. The representative body can then only tick the box at the very last minute. While the councils’ most important weapon is their right of consent, this right applies to issues that do not arise that often, such as the Strategic Plan that is compiled once in four years. And the budget whose main points are subject to the right of consent. The question is, what are the main points? These are not stated anywhere and are thus open to interpretation. Furthermore, much depends on the willingness of an executive board to decide how much information a council gets.”
There is also a problem with the progress of tests and exams during corona. Of those at both applied sciences and academic institutions, fewer than 30 percent feel councils had sufficient input in the decision making on this topic. While under half of those surveyed (50 percent in applied science and 44 percent in academic universities) believe that they had sufficient input on the safety and wellbeing of students and staff during the coronavirus crisis.
The ISO is really peeved by this. “The representatives on staff-student participation bodies are positive about the culture of consultation”, says chairperson De Roos, “but obviously they encounter obstacles when addressing specific coronavirus measures. This is quite worrying. Such an important topic cannot be swept under the rug.”
At TU Delft, council members think differently. “Since the outbreak of the Covid crisis, we have had monthly informal meetings with Rob Mudde from the Executive Board”, Saraf Nawar of Lijst Bèta explained. “These meetings mean that we can express our concerns at an early stage and it makes it easier to find common ground with the Executive Board.”
HOP, Bas Belleman / Delta