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EUR to start trialling exclusive study spaces during exam period ‘soon’

Students’ complaints about the lack of study spaces have resulted in an experiment…

Last week, the Executive Board decided to trial a system in which some study places would be made exclusive. Unfortunately, not much is clear about this initiative as yet. We don’t know when the trial starts, which study places will be made exclusive, how long the trial will last or how much it will cost. I will therefore pass over all these questions here. Such considerations do not in any case appear to be lie behind this decision.

So what did prompt the Executive Board to make this decision? Complaints. Complaints from students about the lack of study places at the EUR. Specifically, complaints about so-called non-students (i.e. non-university students), such as HBO students or secondary school students, who occupy the precious study places and are noisy. How many non-students are concerned is unclear. In one of the few sample counts made by the university, only a handful of non-students were found. To put this in perspective: the EUR has 2,600 official and 1,200 unofficial study places for about 26,000 students. In short, it is much more likely that the proper target of students’ frustrations regarding study places is one another.

The trial is going ahead anyway, however. The decision therefore seems to be primarily symbolic. The message conveyed is: “We, the Executive Board, are listening to you students, and we are there for you”. Let me take a closer look at this symbolic aspect. What the Board is signalling with its decision is that ultimately, students have a privileged position in relation to the rest of society.

At the same time, great stress is laid on the values and principles pursued by the university. The EUR, we are told, is a university that stands with one foot in the academy and the other in society. Our focus is on impact, inclusion and diversity, and societal challenges, in terms of both education and research. Bildung is the term sometimes used, meaning that we give the students not just a professional discipline, but principles too.

But what kind of Bildung do we impart to our students by introducing a measure to exclude the handful of non-students to be found in the University Library? For my part, I’m almost inclined to do the opposite: I welcome the fact that secondary school students are getting to know the University Library in their spare time, and are able to see and experience for themselves what it’s like to study there.

So do I think that the university should do nothing at all? No, the fact remains that an ever larger group of students likes to study on campus, and that seems very positive to me. In the longer term, this mainly means that the Executive Board must invest in the campus. A higher funding ratio will be needed than the current 10 to 15 percent. However, this takes time, and therefore also requires patience from the students.

In the meantime, the Executive Board need not stand idle. There are numerous measures that could be taken that don’t fly in the face of important values ​​of the university and are probably more effective anyway. For example, trials have been done with a network of students who monitor empty places and provide students with information about them. It turns out that study places are systematically overlooked by students. Even more importantly, though, with measures of this kind, the university doesn’t have to compromise on the values ​​that it proclaims so openly.

Jamie van der Klaauw is a staff member of the Erasmus School of Philosophy, and sits on the University Council.