International Marketing Management master’s student Daniel Cerceja was irritated when he read about a vacancy for new board members for the MAEUR study association. The words ‘Dutch-speaking students only’ were written in capital letters above the vacancy text. “That’s discrimination”, he says. “I’ve known this study association since doing my bachelor’s programme in Communication and Media. It has an international focus and promotes events among internationals. So, it hurts to see that we aren’t welcome on the board.”

This is a ‘big deal’, Daniel says. “Students with board experience stand a better chance of being recruited by big companies.”

Working language

MAEUR is not the only study association to choose to recruit just Dutch-speaking board members. However, most study associations phrase this differently in vacancy texts and brochures. For example, the Cedo Nulli faculty association states that ‘a certain command of Dutch’ is required. Some faculty associations – MFVR, JFR and ERA – don’t mention the need for a command of the Dutch language but advertise their vacancies in Dutch.

Erasmus Magazine looked at all the board member brochures and vacancies from the university’s faculty associations: Cedo Nulli (Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Studies) MFVR (Erasmus MC), JFR (Erasmus School of Law), ERA (Erasmus School of Philosophy), EFR (Erasmus School of Economics), SHARE (Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management), STAR (Rotterdam School of Management) and ACE (Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication). All eight associations were contacted; MFVR was the only one that didn’t respond.

The associations have different reasons for only recruiting Dutch-speaking students. For example, all MAEUR’s internal communication (like policy documents and articles of association) are in Dutch. “Translating this communication is a huge amount of work, especially because we only have a part-time board”, says Chair Caroliene Roelofsen.

A number of associations – MAEUR, Cedo Nulli and ERA – also say that Dutch is often the language used with external contacts. For example, Cedo Nulli’s secretary says that a large number of emails are received in Dutch, which means the secretary needs to be able to read Dutch at the very least. Added to this, some funds require documentation in the Dutch language, says ERA secretary Sanne Roordink. “As a non-profit organisation, we rely on funds to a certain extent and are expected to meet certain requirements to be able to exist as an organisation.”

Dutch is the language used in the School of Law as well, says Joshua Kruithof, the Chair of JFR. Dutch is the language of instruction in all the bachelor’s programmes. “This is why we have chosen to keep our organisation and all our internal communication in Dutch”, Kruithof says. However, non-Dutch-speaking students are welcome to join JFR’s ‘disputen’, associations that focus on the faculty’s master’s students.

International board

Student associations and recruiting only Dutch students small illustration2_ Nederlandse studenten studie studenten verenigingen_Migle Alonderyte
Image credit: Migle Alonderyte

MAEUR and Cedo Nulli would like their boards to have far more of an international flavour in the future. “It’s absolutely our aim to ensure that our boards are as diverse as possible. In an ideal world, it’s something that we would already have achieved”, says MAEUR Chair Roelofsen. “In the past year, MAEUR has already taken major steps to pave the way for an international board in the future. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while to actually achieve. So, my advice for the next board is to carry on our good work.” The goal is to hire international students as board members within two years. Cedo Nulli’s long-term plan states that it wants to internationalise all its board positions within five years, says secretary Carlijn Bodegom.

However, international students are already able to put themselves forward for board positions in some faculty associations: STAR, EFR, SHARE and ACE. “Many of our members are international students”, says Caroline Janse, bachelor’s project manager for STAR. “So, we want our board to reflect this.”

Despite this, boards that welcome international students are often Dutch-speaking too. “Very few international students apply”, Janse explains. “Many students decide to become board members for a year between their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This is a time when international students have often left the country or have already started their master’s programmes.”

ACE is the only faculty association with an international board. Its five members all have different nationalities. “We represent three big programmes with a high percentage of international students”, says Maxime Beller, marketing manager for ACE. “We want to create a comfortable environment for these students. They tell us that our diverse, international board gives them a sense of belonging.”


The university’s executive board cannot dictate how associations choose the members of their boards and committees, says Jacqueline Onyenze, Student Engagement Officer at the IDEA Center. So, instead, the Center issues guidelines on the composition of boards and committees that reflect the university’s diverse student population. “We do this in the form of various toolkits, policy advice, training courses and workshops”, Onyenze says. For example, in one of its brochures, the Center recommends the preparation of inclusive vacancy texts and the use of the same structure for each interview for board/committee membership.

The university’s student organisations are also expected to observe a comprehensive code of conduct, Onyenze says. It states that student organisations are not allowed to discriminate, but says nothing about the recruitment of board members.

Student Daniel would like to see tougher policy on this subject from the university. “I know it’s difficult for associations to break the pattern, but it’s important for them to give all the university’s students the same opportunities”, he says. “Internationals are just as capable as Dutch students are.”

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