Merging departments, how do students feel about it?

TU/e is considering changing its structure. This currently consists of nine departments, but the intention is to bring this number down. The ‘Governance’ working group is looking into the options. But there’s a specific group that hasn’t been involved in the debate yet: students.

photo Vincent van den Hoogen

At the moment, TU/e has nine departments, all teaching their own bachelor’s and master’s programs. In an intranet item published at the end of February, the university said it expects ‘fewer units’ (departments, ed.) will make the organization ‘more manageable and easier’.

To collect input on this from the TU/e community, the Governance working group – the driving force behind the project – organized an information session on March 7. It was attended by around 150 people from TU/e who wanted to voice their opinions on the topic, only a handful of whom were students.

Importance of involving students

As it turns out, the lack of students on March 7 makes perfect sense, as they hadn’t been explicitly invited. The invitation was sent out as part of the Strategy Update newsletter, which is only received by staff. It could also be found via an intranet page on Governance, but only for those who knew where to look. The University Council has now sent an official request to the Executive Board to actively involve students in the process.

Hieke van Heesch, chair of student faction Groep-één, emphasizes the importance of involving students. “It’s good to get input from students, because they have first-hand experience in dealing with things like talking to academic advisors, taking courses, and switching to master’s programs,” she says. “In the end they know best what their department means to them.”

Poll: what do students want?

The request to involve students in the Governance discussion motivated Cursor to launch a poll among its Instagram following, including the required background information. Although the poll isn’t representative for the entire university, it does paint a picture of the different preferences. The results of the poll are given below (304 respondents).

Planning to involve students?

At the information session on Mach 7, those present from TU/e wondered if students had already been talked to. At the time, working group chair Edwin van den Heuvel responded that they hadn’t, but they would.

According to Van Heesch, efforts have yet to be made in this respect. “We haven’t been approached directly so far. There’s only been a general update by the strategy committee (which Governance is a part of, ed.), where we could ask a few questions.” Ellen Konijnenberg also indicates she has received little in the way of concrete plans from the working group. “In the University Council we asked for a timeline and about the project design and decision-making. But we didn’t really receive an answer.”

Van den Heuvel says he would still very much like to involve students in the discussion on future governance. “We’ll have to involve all stakeholders at one moment or another,” he says. “So I fully agree it’s something that needs to be done; I’m just trying to pick the right time.”

A later moment

Van den Heuvel says it’s a matter of timing. “It’s not like I don’t want students’ input, it’s just that there hasn’t been time yet,” he explains. “Until now, the discussion has mostly been on leadership and governance. Those are things that don’t affect students that much. Once you really look at bringing the departments together, things that students will notice, then it’s an absolute necessity for them to have their say as well.”

For the moment, it remains unclear what the next steps are and when the input of students will be collected. Yesterday and the day before, the Strategy Days took place, where the Governance working group shared its findings to date. On the Governance page, a ‘Timetable Future Governance’ can be found. It says that the next step is approval by the Executive Board, which ‘will continue to involve the community in the follow up’. This is where the timeline stops. “We haven’t made any plans beyond that point, because we are still very much trying to get clarity ourselves,” Van den Heuvel explains. “Right now, the working group will study all the debates that took place at the Strategy Days. We’ll see where we go from there.”

Fragmented discussions

In Konijnenberg’s opinion, it’s important to pay attention to communicating with the TU/e community throughout the process, even if there aren’t any concrete plans yet. “There’s a lot of speculation behind the scenes. The fact that people don’t know what to expect creates unrest.” Van den Heuvel indicates he is deliberately cautious in this respect. “You want to exercise care in these kinds of discussions. If you start sharing things in a fragmented way, people will only get part of the story and that leaves room for misinterpretation. Before you know it, things will start leading a life of their own.” He prefers making official statements when there are concrete plans. Where possible, interim updates, such as the summaries of the information session on March 7 and of the Strategy Days, will be shared via the Governance page.

Even though Van Heesch would like to see students being actively involved, she doesn’t feel like they are actually taking much of an interest at the moment. She thinks the whole debate doesn’t feel that relevant to them yet. “I think they read the communications, but that’s it. It’s probably still rather vague to them, still very much up in the air,” she explains. “Just like the new core values.”

Cursor asked students what they think of the governance discussion. See the video below. 

Cursor asked TU/e students which department they would like to merge with.

Which department would you like to merge with?

Cursor asked TU/e students which department they would like to merge with.

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