Where will the money go, and what do we want to achieve? Will there be quiet rooms at the university or university of applied sciences? Will the institution offer free menstrual products? And which support is available for students with problems?
At all universities and universities of applied sciences, students and staff help to determine the direction taken by sitting on councils and committees. Elections are held for this – at least if enough candidates can be found. But who will go and vote? The turnout is getting lower and lower and is regularly below 10 percent. At Erasmus University, the turnout in last year’s University Council elections was only 5.4 percent.
Under the motto ‘Vote for better education’, Minister Dijkgraaf is calling on staff and – above all – students to cast their vote. He is doing so together with the national organisations of the participation bodies, the student organisations ISO and LSVb and the umbrella organisations of universities and universities of applied sciences.
Why do you think the turnout is so low?
“Let me start by saying that the low turnout in the elections for participation bodies is a source of great concern for me. The proper functioning of the participation system is crucial for the proper functioning of the MBO institutions, universities of applied sciences and universities themselves. This includes the highest possible turnout, as well as a large number of students and staff registering as candidates.”
So the turnout could be higher, then?
“Research shows that there is too little awareness of what the participation bodies actually do, especially among students.”
Dijkgraaf mentions a few ways to change this. Elections help to draw more attention to participation within the educational institution, he believes. The work of the participation body must also be clearly visible, so the members will need to keep their supporters informed. In his opinion, it also helps if institutions start to recruit potential candidates in good time.
“We need to get the message across more clearly that you can actively influence the policy of your institution as a student or employee”, says Dijkgraaf. “That’s why we are also launching this urgent appeal today to encourage people to vote.”
Which steps are you taking yourself to strengthen the participation system?
“I made an additional 11.5 million euros available for training, support, communication and remuneration. After all, proper support is crucial for participation bodies to function well. It also makes working for these bodies more attractive.”
But some institutions offer more support than others…
“The law is clear about the entitlements of the participation bodies to support, but the concrete impact does indeed vary greatly between institutions. The question is what exactly is meant by training, support and communication. For this reason, I am currently working on an overview of this together with various other parties. But good work is being done when it comes to training members. Last year I visited a training weekend for HBO participation bodies, which I found very inspiring.”
National guidelines have been announced for the remuneration of the members of participation bodies. How is that going?
“This is currently under development. I hope to inform the House about this in the near future.”
Should students and staff have more say?
“I think that participation bodies already have a great deal of say at our institutions. This is precisely why strong participation is so important for the quality of the education. Fortunately, this does generally exist.”
Why do you think that?
“The system of participation rights and obligations in higher education is very robust. In the participation monitor, 80 percent of the respondents indicated that the administrators and managers usually or always adopt an open and constructive attitude. And 82 percent usually or always keep to the agreements made.”
The appeal is mainly aimed at students. Why should they take part in the participation bodies?
“It can bring great things, especially for students. Take the quality of their education, for example, or the network they are building. It allows them to gain management experience and organisational knowledge.”
D66 has traditionally been the party of democratisation. Is participation extra important for you, as the D66 minister?
“Properly functioning participation in MBO, HBO and university education is important for every Minister of Education, regardless of party.”
The appeal was made by the participation bodies VMH, LOVUM, LOF and Hbo Medezeggenschap, the student organisations ISO and LSVb, the umbrella organisations Universities of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, together with the Ministry of Education.