Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven presented the national action plan at Leiden University this morning. Higher education has been given five more years to get results. The action plan states that if results are not achieved within this timeframe, the implementation of quotas may be necessary.
TU/e's Diversity Officer Evangelia Demerouti is not fully satisfied with the current plan. “This plan should have been SMART, meaning specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound. Now we have to wait another five years to see what was actually implemented, after which actions might follow. Those actions are exactly what’s missing, they should have been part of this plan. But apparently there are many interests that play a role, and as a result you end up with a plan like this one.”
Two months ago, The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights ruled that TU/e’s own action plan aimed at recruiting women, the Irène Curie Fellowship program, launched in July 2019, was 'too severe a means to achieve this goal.' Demerouti still finds that decision regrettable, “because this program actually proved to be effective in hiring more female scientists.” Together with the Executive Board she is preparing an adjustment of the program. "This adjustment will be put before The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights," Demerouti says, "but before the end of this year an adjusted program must be ready to be put in action."
The national action plan was signed by nine parties including the Dutch Research Council, the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) and the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN). The aim to is to anchor diversity and inclusion more firmly in action plans by including steps in for example the assessment of research proposals and degree programmes.
More insight into diversity among employees and students is also needed, as little is currently known about the number of employees with a migration background. The action plan states that this information may result in new target figures for cultural diversity.
The institutions plan to combine their diversity plans, a national expertise centre is in the works and prizes for good policy will be awarded. Demerouti has doubts about this as well: “Everyone knows that each university is different and can’t be compared to other universities. We can’t all use one method for achieving greater diversity, you need a different approach for each institution for that. Look at our university and Utrecht University, for example. The later institution is significantly larger, and they have made much more progress as far as diversity is concerned.”
In five years time, the outcomes of all those diversity plans will be evaluated. In the event that progress is found to be lacking, other measures will be considered 'such as the option for implementing quotas at various levels and for various employers', as stated in the action plan.
The position and the work of the Diversity Officer is also mentioned in the plan. It is recommanded that there should be a survey of which knowledge, expertise and competence must be present that makes it possible to translate the diversity policy in the field of education and research, and employees and students to the different units inside the university.
Demerouti also has something to say about that, regarding her own institution: “Here, the Executive Board listens to me and accepts my recommendations. However, I only have one day a week available to me to perform this function. I often talk and consult with people, try to connect people, but I don’t have the extra capacity to get my ideas and plans implemented in practice. Other universities often have a diversity office. When I want to implement something, I worry that it might lead to extra work pressure for someone.” Before the end of this year, Demerouti hopes to have the extra capacity she needs to actually implement actions. “Because that’s not what’s lacking here in Eindhoven, unlike in the national action plan.”
Social safety in higher education is also on the agenda. Unions frequently warn about issues such as bullying, gossiping and abuses of power and the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) also sounded the alarm. In the past, the Minister was not in favour of mandatory ombuds officers at universities and universities of applied sciences. Before the summer, opposition party PvdA did not receive enough support for a national hotline for complaints of unacceptable behaviour. But Van Engelshoven acknowledges that there is plenty of room for improvement. She has asked the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for advice on how to prevent intimidation and misconduct.
A national advisory committee, presided by Rector Vinod Subramaniam of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, will oversee the progress of the action plan. Mr Subramaniam had previously argued for national target figures for scientists with a migration background. The ultimate goal is to translate the plans into actionable tasks, Subramaniam said. “We need to go from ideas to action.” That's something Diversity Officer Demerouti can only agree with.