Students offer input to Dijkgraaf

Robbert Dijkgraaf’s meeting with students yesterday concluded with a ‘Speak out’ session in the auditorium of one of the buildings of Summa College. The Education Minister invitingly told the nearly one hundred students from TU/e, Fontys and Summa to: “Speak freely, what do you want to ask me and what do you want to bring to my attention?”

photo Leonie Voets

With the exception of a few, the topics raised by the students are predictable. Housing, the upscaling plans, protests against cooperation with the fossil industry, transparency with regard to the flow of funds, the basic grant, equal treatment of students in secondary vocational education (mbo), higher vocational education (hbo) and research-oriented higher education (wo), and bus schedules are discussed during the last hour of what has been a very busy day for the minister.

TU/e-student Yuri Copal, a member of ONS, wants to know whether the minister thinks that the participation body has enough resources to adequately monitor whether the billion in advanced study funds will be put to the right use. And above all: What can be improved in this regard? Dijkgraaf: “In theory, it’s a fine system, but the ministry should perhaps urge Executive Boards to spend the funds wisely. The University Council may also demand more.” Copal thinks this is a vague answer. “More and more is expected of the University Council, even though they only get eight hours a week. I didn’t hear any solution and it wasn’t an answer to my question,” he says afterwards.

Discrimination in secondary vocational education

A student in secondary vocational education is shown more sympathy by the minister. “As a student in secondary vocational education in Eindhoven, I’m not allowed to attend the Intro or play tennis at the Student Sports Center. What can you do about that?” It is essentially a form of discrimination, thinks Dijkgraaf. “It’s ridiculous, it seems to be discrimination based on education level. What I can do is call for all students to be treated equally. It’s a point of principle; why can students build a solar car together but not play sports together?”

TU/e student Julius Wildenburg wants to add a few words about the similarities and differences between higher vocational education and research-oriented higher education. “Higher vocational education is becoming more theoretical and research-oriented higher education more practical. This gap is getting smaller and the one between secondary and higher vocational education is getting bigger,” he says. Dijkgraaf replies: “That’s a development of recent years. As far as I’m concerned, higher vocational education can stop ‘playing university’. All institutions should do what they’re best at. There should be no competition. Know your strengths and stick to your own role. That way, you avoid overlap in work.”

“Support us”

Lucas van Bentum, EE student at TU/e, brings up climate change. “You’ve seen that TU/e’s boardroom has been occupied. As minister, what can you do to support the protesting students?” Dijkgraaf starts with a compliment towards the students. “You see certain things more clearly than we do; the protests are a good thing. Thinking about what companies you want to work with as an institution is something that happens all over the world. But it's not up to me to approve or disapprove of partnerships. That's up to universities to decide for themselves.”

Afterwards, Van Bentum expresses his disappointment with the response. “It actually reflects the hopeless feeling that the minister doesn’t support us in our mission.”

Still, Dijkgraaf concludes Question Time by saying how incredibly useful he found this Speak Out meeting. “The ministry is listening to you. There were as many as ten people from the ministry who came along with me today. We're taking the input back with us to The Hague.”

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