The occupation of the Maagdenhuis (University of Amsterdam’s administrative building) has resulted in debates throughout the country. The campaigners are demanding a greater say, and scope already exists for this, according to Peter Kwikkers, expert in law and legislation in higher education.
This was recognised by Minister Bussemaker yesterday in her letter to the Lower Chamber. The legal minimum requirements for participation are after all “used as a maximum or as a ticking-off list”, according to the Minister, “whereas there is after all scope for institutes to do more when that is appropriate for them.”
But what is then possible? There are minimum requirements, but what could educational institutes do to provide more say?
There are certain limits. At public universities the Minister refers to the members of the supervisory boards. For private universities (there are three of them) and private universities of applied sciences (all of them) the boards themselves decide about new members or successors. Little can be done in this regard, at least as long as the Act on higher education is not amended. Kwikkers certainly sees reasons and possibilities for this.
Furthermore an executive board consists at the very most of three members who are appointed by the supervisory board. “But an institute can itself determine how candidates should be nominated and how much say the participation council has in this”, according to Kwikkers.
A participation council can acquire all sorts of authorities. At many universities of applied sciences members still have the right to vote for the budget. “In 1997 that right to vote was removed from the Act and it actually disappeared from the research universities. However, at approximately half of the universities of applied sciences the participation councils have retained that right.”
“It is not so easy to maintain a good balance in an executive organisation”, says Kwikkers. “It is quite a difficult task. You mustn’t let the pendulum swing more in one direction than the other, but the clock does have to remain ticking.”
Students have to persuade the executives to adjust the institute’s regulations. “For example, you can also talk about a student-assessor, as the University of Amsterdam has promised. That is a student who attends executive meetings to safeguard the rights and interests of students. There are good arguments in favour of this and it can be interpreted sensibly.”
Ultimately the objective of institutes of higher education is to educate students for society and conducting research. Executives should keep this in mind. A governance culture and a moral compass are important, but the procedural frameworks are too. “You have to “sentence”, as it were, students, lecturers, executives and the outside world to working together well. This will lead to awareness about what you should be doing.”
But it is not an easy model, warns Kwikkers. “A better balance has to be brought between the national law and legislation and the institutional regulations. It is possible that the University of Amsterdam needs a different internal regulation from Delft or Leiden. Atmosphere, culture, mission and history partially determine the pre-conditions for good governance and good regulations.”