Generally speaking, the speech delivered by the Rector at the official opening of the new academic year does not hold much interest to students. However, this year was different, with Prof. Huib Pols announcing the kick-off of the Students for Students project.
‘The idea is that students can improve the education they receive’
Last spring, nationwide student organisations were in uproar, as it had been demonstrated that the millions of euros the government had saved by abolishing student grants were not necessarily being channelled back into tertiary education, as promised. The student organisations said they felt cheated. At EUR, too, there had been some concern for a while about the way in which the money was being spent. Plans for a Community for Learning and Innovation (see sidebar) had already been drafted, but they were never very detailed. But instead of complaining, students, led by University Council member Daniel Sieczkowski, took matters into their own hands, which resulted in the establishment of the Students for Students (S4S) programme.
The crux of the programme is that students who wish to receive better teaching will be able to come up with ideas of their own and realise these at once, with or without the university’s financial support. “They may propose all sorts of improvements,” Sieczkowski explains. “The teaching may broaden people’s horizons or go in depth, and it may take place at their own faculty or elsewhere. The idea is that students can improve the education they receive, with each other and for each other, on the basis of their own proposals.”
Although it was the medical student who paved the road for the programme, he did not entirely come up with the idea himself. “The original idea came from a professor of anatomy, Gert-Jan Kleinrensink. In 2003, a few students approached him for additional seminars on anatomy. They felt the subject wasn’t discussed in enough detail in the regular med school curriculum and tried to find a way to deepen their knowledge. Advanced knowledge of anatomy is crucial if you want to become, say, a surgeon.”
This is how the Eramus Anatomy Research Project (EARP) was established. Initially, Kleinrensink himself taught the additional evening seminars, but soon students took over from him. “By now, over fifteen such initiatives are being run, and Professor Kleinrensink has provided a firm structure for the project: E=MC^3. Through this platform, students create additional courses for themselves.”
‘Medical students often have no idea how research is conducted at, say, the Faculty of Philosophy, Economics or Sociology, and vice versa’
Sieczkowski hopes that S4S will not just provide Erasmus MC with a firm structure. He would like to open the programme up to all students. “We are looking hard for good ideas. It’s a very basic concept. Everything must be done bottom up, by students, and the money must be paid directly to the students, thus allowing them to be actively engaged in the teaching they receive.”
The first pilot project is about to kick off: The Research Group (TRG). “During this project, several master classes will teach students to step outside the boundaries of their own field of study. Medical students often have no idea how research is conducted at, say, the Faculty of Philosophy, Economics or Sociology, and vice versa.”
According to Sieczkowski, it is not merely for practical reasons that precisely this project is to serve as a guinea pig. “Most people on the TRG team are from Erasmus MC, meaning they are familiar with the S4S phenomenon. At the same time, TRG will build the perfect bridge from the Hoboken Campus, which currently has most of the knowledge and experience of S4S, to the Woudestein Campus. This project will serve as a blueprint for further initiatives and allow everyone to become familiar with the concept.”
S4S will not become fully operational until after this baptism of fire. “We are currently seeking a suitable project coordinator and teaching assistants who will support him or her. After that, the programme will be upscaled, including its promotion.” Sieczkowski has at least one important fan. “Huib Pols has been keen on the idea for a long time now. He already showed enthusiasm during several University Council meetings. He said it has nothing to do with the money, but rather with students’ motivation. I hope they will be motivated, but I trust they will be.”
The Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI) is meant to become EUR’s answer to all the trends that can be observed in the education community. “We need one spot where we can strengthen the combination of online learning, blended learning and classroom education,” Huib Pols stated at the opening of the new academic year. The Digital = Normal programme will form the basis of that spot. Students and lecturers can use CLI to digitise teaching methods, upgrade facilities and enhance both students’ and lecturers’ skills, among other things. Students for Students was designed to become the part of CLI where students can have a direct say in the education they receive. The community is funded through the money the government saved when it abolished student grants in 2015. Students who have any ideas for Students for Students should contact Daniel Sieczkowski. Sign up for The Research Group here.