First steps towards new participation bodies

The Dutch House of Representatives wants to see new regulations for participation bodies at institutes of higher education. Researchers, students and unions are taking advantage of this opportunity to submit their own proposals. Cursor asked Martijn Klabbers of staff faction PUR and Ralph van Ierland of student faction Groep-één whether they feel that things should be done differently.

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In the past, university councils were officially allowed to participate in decisions on nearly everything that affected their institutions. But since 1998 participation in university governance has been restricted to the right to make recommendations or give consent. According to GroenLinks party MP Lisa Westerveld, these days students and staff should really have more say in how their institution is run.

Current legislation does not allow for this, however. That’s why Westerveld submitted a motion calling on the government to enter into dialogue with researchers, faculty members and students about how to "modernise" the rules. In October her motion passed in the House of Representatives by a slim majority. Of the coalition parties, only D66 voted in favour. VVD, CDA and ChristenUnie do not support new regulations.


We support them, say the academic protest movement WOinActie and National Student Union LSVb. These two groups have teamed up with trade unions AOb and FNV to write a proposal for more participation in university governance. Right now people in the workplace have too little input on decisions about how things run day-to-day, the proposal suggests. "University bureaucracy has become all-encompassing, and this obstructs participation."

These groups thus advocate for creating "participation from below". They also want to experiment with a mix of elected permanent council members and temporary members chosen by drawing lots.

In their "Participation 2.0” plan, decisions would be made at the lowest organisational level. Moreover, those in governance positions – from department heads to members of the executive board – would be elected. Other staff, and not just professors, would also be able to nominate themselves for posts.

As far as these groups are concerned, representatives should also have a say in decisions on a greater range of topics, or at least be able to submit proposals. And not only about academic guidelines, exam regulations and the main points of the budget, but about all issues related to core tasks like teaching and research.


PUR member Martijn Klabbers doesn’t believe that the hierarchy outlined above – “co-determination would be crushed under a culture of management and control” – applies to TU/e. “Our Executive Board often seeks support for its decisions, and I don’t associate TU/e with bureaucracy. Rather the opposite; we document things too little. There is room for improvement.”

Klabbers has read the manifesto with forty propositions about science published by WOinActie and was not impressed. "WOinActie has identified one of the problems very well: an excessive work pressure due to an enormous increase in workload", but he finds further argumentation and conclusions questionable. “You can increase your involvement by having more electable positions, but I’m not sure whether that will improve things or simply lead to more politics instead.” He thinks that the authors aren’t aware of the strength of the current co-determination. “Making more plans, which I suspect might lead to more bureaucracy, on that basis is ill-considered. The recently introduced Enhanced Governance Powers (Educational Institutions) Act also had a limited impact. Some participation was redistributed, which led to better governance, but it unquestionably has also led to more bureaucracy.”

He definitely supports the proposal to involve students – “our largest group of direct stakeholders” – in our university more. He is equally supportive of the wish to experiment.  “I also agree that we have highly motivated employees, who like to share their ideas on how to achieve a high quality of research, education and social service. The Executive Board has been trying to get that sense of relevance across to all employees before the WP was issued, and we should try to do the same for the professionals/OBP in particular. But I have my doubts about the manner in which the proposal suggests we should go about this. It’s difficult enough as it is to find good candidates for co-determination. We currently don’t make nearly enough use of the co-determination’s rights, and elections for key positions will bring about a different dynamic, but it won’t automatically lead to better governance.”


Ralph van Ierland, chair of Groep-één, says that in general, his group is also satisfied “with the constructive manner in which we can jointly operate here. That’s dependent on good relations between the board and co-determination, and a sufficient degree of openness towards each other. We notice that many students want to be involved, but they simultaneously wonder how much clout co-determination really has.”

Van Ierland says that’s important to know what your rights are, and that your opinion is considered valuable and has an impact. “If the opinions of students and employees aren’t heard properly at other institutions, something needs to change. In Eindhoven, we will help to come up with the best way to achieve that. A co-determination body should also have enough room to properly immerse itself in everything that goes on. And that immersion should then result in a constructive meeting, between employees, students and the board, so that you can give direction together.”

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