23 April 2019 • HOP, Inge Schouten
Information about participation councils often kept under lock and key
The elections for the participation councils have started in various places. But is the information about what all these councils do accessible to students and staff members? A tour.
The elections in higher education have gained in importance since the councils are allowed to take part in decisions on how to spend the millions of the basic grants – the money that universities of applied sciences and research universities can use to improve their education. That’s why it’s even more remarkable that election turnout has been so low in recent years, certainly at universities of applied sciences.
Barely seven percent of university of applied sciences students took the trouble to vote last year. Minister Van Engelshoven appealed to the universities of applied sciences to improve this, among other things by making the participation councils more visible. At research universities, an average of 28 percent of the students went to the polls. But the turnout there was also lower than in 2017.
A study by the National Student Union revealed in 2017 that students are more likely to vote if they involved with the participation councils. Lack of communication, ignorance and too little knowledge about the existence and functioning of the participation councils were the main reasons for students not voting.
In the same year, the associations of participation councils in universities of applied sciences (SOM) and research universities (LOF) conducted research into the online findability of councils. Only a third of the councils appeared to have an overview page on the website of their institution, but those who were looking for the contact information for the councils were only successful in half of the cases.
Put it to the test
What is the status of the findability of the councils two years later? We put it to the test by checking the websites of all Dutch universities and the twelve largest universities of applied sciences. With a simple search using the terms ‘participation’, ‘General Council’ or ‘university council’, you can find information about a central staff and student participation council on most of the websites. On the majority of the university pages, a few extra mouse clicks provide much more information.
Lock and key
The situation is quite different for universities of applied sciences. On just over half of their pages all we were able to find was some general contact information for the council at the most. If you want to know more about the members, how to reach them, when the meetings are and what will be discussed there, you will find yourself at a dead end.
A tour reveals that many universities of applied sciences provide plenty of information via the intranet. The participation councils keep their supporters informed via the intranet, says Mathieu Heemelaar, chair of The Hague University of Applied Sciences. “There is an avalanche of information available for students and staff members.” Since this academic year, participation councils have also been communicating in English. Two additional employees have been hired to support the councils and Degree Programme Advisory Committees in their professionalisation and in the newsletters they write for their supporters.
Is it actually a problem that all the information is only available to students and staff members and not to outsiders? Not really, was the response of many universities of applied sciences. After all, the council is there for them. They are the ones who should be able to find everything.
The tour shows that some universities of applied sciences struggle with the question of what they can and cannot make public online. Should minutes on sensitive matters be accessible to everyone? As an example, Cor Niks, chair of Windesheim, refers to discussions about binding study advice. “If the minutes are public, they could end up anywhere.”
The new privacy legislation also plays a role in the reluctance of the universities of applied sciences to make everything public. “We want to increase online visibility to the outside world, but we are still discussing the best way to do that,” explains Annette Wind of the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU). In the meantime, they are trying to increase the physical visibility of the council at HU. “We recently took the participation council into the building to ask staff members and students what they think is important.”
More information about participation councils at THUAS is available under lock and key on our intranet.
The General Council at work.