6 February 2017 • Annelies Peters (HNTB) and Dieuwke de Boer
Work sessions for the Degree Programme Advisory Committees: what’s needed for their future versions?
The Improved Governance (Higher Education) Act states that Degree Programme Advisory Committees (OCs) will join Staff and Student Councils in co-determination activities at the start of the next academic year. This means, among other things, that the OCs will get the right to endorse decisions regarding parts of the Education and Examination Rules and Regulations (OER) and will play a greater role in the evaluation of their degree programme. More than a hundred students, lecturers and managers got together to discuss these changes during two work sessions held on 17 and 18 January 2017.
Those attending these work sessions discussed three areas – ‘Facilities & Regulations’, ‘Professional Development’, and ‘Communication’ – at separate tables. The issues discussed at these tables ranged from ‘What facilities does an OC need?’ to ‘How can we hold successful elections?’ This article presents the most important insights generated by each table.
Facilities & Regulations
What are the conditions for an effectively operating OC? This was the main question addressed at the ‘Facilities & Regulations’ table. According to the participants, the existing situation could definitely be improved. Examples given were that the OC is still not always being properly listened to, that contact between the OC and the Faculty Council could stand improvement, and that it is difficult to find new OC members. The participants were of the opinion that the legally established size of OCs (four members for degree programmes with up to 500 students, six members for degree programmes with 500 to 1,000 students, and eight members for degree programmes with more than 1,000 students) was not large enough. The participants also questioned the 50/50 proportion between students and lecturers since students could often add more to an OC than lecturers.
Elections are a point of departure for the new legislation, and The Hague University of Applied Sciences has wholeheartedly agreed with this. Although opinions at the table were divided, the participants agreed that it would be good to consult with those they represented on a more regular basis by, for example, appointing an OC member as a class representative.
The involvement of students varies according to their OC. Some participants thought this would improve by awarding a financial remuneration. Credits are already being awarded to OC members, and this also appears effective. In conclusion, the participants thought it advisable for the management to inform the OCs properly about the new endorsement right so that it won’t be applied blindly.
The input generated by these work sessions will be included when drawing up the Co-determination Regulations. This will be discussed on 15 February during the General Council’s consultation meeting. The facilities scheme, which includes financial remuneration, will be addressed during the meeting on 15 March.
The theme discussed at this table was co-operation and what the new authorities of the OCs would mean for the expertise and competencies that their members would need to acquire. The participants thought that all the new OC members should receive training that would include such aspects as how to read the OER, how to deal with relationships, and the fact that the interests of students and lecturers aren’t always alike even though they have the same ultimate goal: to monitor and improve the content and quality of the degree programme.
The greatest challenge faced by OCs is recruiting new students and lecturers to become members. Motivations for participation could include awarding financial remuneration or credits. Effective communication, both internally and externally (e.g. via Facebook) was also deemed important.
The crucial question at the third table was ‘how can we make people more aware of the OC?’ It was important, according to the participants, to improve the image of the OC and to invest more effort in its contact with those it represents. Why not visit the classroom and the class representatives and/or involve student associations in the work of the OC, for example? Currently, the OCs use social media, newsletters or a special OC page on Blackboard to maintain contact with those it represents. They also thought it would be a good idea to have more consistency in their communication such as using the same @hhs.nl e-mail address for all OC members and having a single logo for all the OCs.
It would help matters, in their opinion, to award credits, a financial remuneration or a letter of recommendation for participation in an OC. According to the participants, all OC members should receive training in certain communication skills such as taking minutes, verbal communication and written communication. Because communication plays an important role in organising successful elections, the participants indicated that it would be advisable to engage in plenty of experimentation with communication media in the run-up to the elections in May. Holding debates and an impressive, jointly organised kick-off was also suggested. The most important tips generated by this table were to explore what we can learn from other universities of applied sciences and to share our own best practices, preferably by means of a common platform.
More information about the future role of the OCs as of 1 September is available at FAQ on intranet.