10 September 2018 • HOP, Steffi Weber
Minister: don’t be brushed off by board members
This weekend on the Veluwe, future participation council members were prepared for their new positions. The minister gave them encouragement during the opening evening.
“Some boards put the interests of the institute above those of students and lecturers”, she said. “Don’t let yourself be fooled by vague tables and half information. Make sure you know what you are talking about”. Speaking was no one less than the Minister of Education Van Engelshoven. She travelled to Nunspeet on Friday evening to talk to future participation council members from across the Netherlands.
They were on the Veluwe for a training weekend, a crash course in ‘speaking up’ and ‘giving your opinion’, organised by the National Consultation of Fractions Foundation (LOF) and the Student Consultation on Participation (SOM), two sister organisations of the Dutch National Student Union that focus on participation in research universities and universities of applied sciences.
A thorn in the side
During two days, the future council members are prepped for their positions as thorns in the side of the boards: they learn how to pick apart annual reports and to understand the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW), but they could also get training in ‘personal development’ and ‘negotiating’. Every participation council member was welcome – members from Degree Programme Advisory Committees to councils. The forty-euro cost can be declared from the institute.
Offering a counter-response
A training weekend like this is no luxury. The students must have confidence if they are going to offer a counter-response to the established board members. SOM director Martin Memelink followed a training weekend himself last year. “It was an eye opener”, he recalls. “When you start you don’t know what your rights and duties are, and there is a danger that you won’t have the confidence to stand up for what you consider important.”
Minister Van Engelshoven applauds that: a well-informed, decisive participation council is an important pillar in her policy. Certainly now that the participation councils are going to take part in decisions about the loan system millions that have been freed up by getting rid of the basic grant, the council members must have enough space and time to fulfil their positions.
Minimum number of hours
Partly due to that, a minimum number of hours has recently been introduced for participation council members: depending on the size of the institute, students are facilitated with 4 to 8 hours per week. “The Association of Universities (VSNU) and the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences were not very enthusiastic”, she revealed to the students. “I assume the institutes will live up to their agreements, but if this continues to create problems and time is not freed up in your timetables for meetings, then sound the alarm. I also have other tools and can step in if required”, said Van Engelshoven. “I’d rather not have to, but I will take seriously any issues I hear about.”
Education Minister Van Engelshoven spoke to members of the participation council during a training weekend on the Veluwe.
Photo: Martin Memelink