Last Thursday, Members of Parliament were struggling to find majorities for their plans to improve the management of universities and universities of applied sciences. Coalition partners PvdA and VVD occasionally reached agreement, but still disagree on many issues. The far-reaching democratisation of higher education is very unlikely.

“It will be an exciting vote”, concluded Jasper van Dijk, Member of Parliament for the SP, after hours of debate on Thursday. And he is right about this. The House of Representatives has submitted dozens of amendments for the Strengthening of Management Capacity Act, a new law designed to improve the management of educational institutes. The divide between those who want more participation and those who think the present situation is fine as it is runs straight across the House.

Addiction to participation

On one side, the VVD coalition partner is accusing other parties of ‘participation addiction’: it is not necessary for students to participate in all decision-making. The CDA and PVV also believe that further participation by students and lecturers is unnecessary.

“The education sector is not contending with a lack of participation”, said Harm Beertema, Member of Parliament for the PVV. “The education sector has a lack of morality and a shortage of unpretentious, service-minded managers and, above all, a shortage of courageous participation councils that dare to bite rather than bark.”

Decision-making power for students and lecturers

On the other side are D66, GroenLinks and the SP. The latter party does not only want more rights for the participation councils, but is also calling for a completely different form of management: Member of Parliament Jasper van Dijk envisages a ‘democratic university’, where all students and lecturers have the opportunity to be involved in decision-making.

Coalition partner PvdA is the connection between the two sides and is seeking majorities. Member of Parliament Mohammed Mohandis would like to give the participation council more rights, but does not agree with the far-reaching proposals of the SP.

Sufficient support for senior management

But the House of Representatives is a hotchpotch: now that the PvdA and the VVD are not in agreement, it is difficult to find support for a proposal. The ChristenUnie will soon be playing a crucial role. For Members of Parliament anxious to hear about the intentions of their ChristenUnie colleague, matters became more complicated: Eppo Bruins spoke for the first time in the House of Representatives and, because of this, no-one was allowed to interrupt him.

But he did drop a few hints during his maiden speech. “The solution does not lie in the idea that we should allow students to participate in management”, said Bruins. “As far as that goes, the proposals of some colleagues go far too far. The roles really have to be well defined.”

The party would, however, like to give staff more power by, for example, giving them the right to prevent the appointment of managers. “In this way, senior managers at an institute would have sufficient support from the professionals on the work floor,” said Bruins.

Strengthening study programme committees

Among the dozens of amendments, some already have a clear majority. For example, study programme committees will probably have more say by having the right of consent with regard to education and examination rules and full-time student managers will no longer have to pay tuition fees. Furthermore, regulators in the education sector will probably not have to report their suspicions regarding abuse immediately.

For all the other proposals, Members of Parliament will have to seek support. Jet Bussemaker, the Education Minister, will first respond to all the amendments in writing. After this, the debate will be resumed and it will be the turn of the Minister to make a statement. It is not yet known when this will happen.