Decision-making is just a terminal destination. Prior to that, you need all hands on deck to create a base of support.
We believe in cooperation, because in the end all of us benefit. At the beginning of the year, we establish our goals, decide on the working method, including all meeting dates. We allocate the portfolios on the basis of preference and on the basis of qualities. There should also be room to learn within the study programme committee (Dutch acronym: OC).
We attend training sessions that the HU offers to all OC-members. We organise consultations with other OCs of the institute and the faculty. And we pay attention to teambuilding, a sociable and pleasant atmosphere and solidarity. Our motto is: You need each other in order to move forward.
The Institute Social Work (ISW) is part of an extensive educational innovation trajectory. A number of study programmes are combined to become a joint bachelor Social Work. This proposal is brought to the faculty council. The faculty council in turn asked the involved study programme committees (Dutch acronym: OCs) for advice. The OCs’ initial reaction to the proposed plan was sceptical: they believed that the identity of various study programmes would be lost in the new, broader bachelor. Therefore, their initial advice to the faculty council was negative. Additionally, they pointed out that the plans lacked sufficient support among students. The OCs believed that they as well as the students themselves were not heard properly and that insufficient relevant evidence in support of the statements was provided. After coordination between management and the faculty council, it has been decided that, apart from teachers, also students will participate in the steering group, the consultative group and the various subprojects on educational innovation. The management has aided the students with this money- and time-wise.
Participation council and OC together
Since the participation council (Dutch acronym: MR) and the OC have found each other for the broad bachelor’s programme, we reach out to each other for other topics too. For each point on their agenda, the MR questions whether the OC should also be involved. At the same time, the OC reaches out to the MR in these cases. The student chair of the OC and the teacher chair of the MR get in touch every two weeks. It is not always the case that the OC and MR share the same viewpoints, the MR is concerned with different interests after all. In any case, we are aware of each other’s points of view and have considered the arguments. Not every OC within HU functions this way, it is something you need to be willing to do since it takes a lot of time. However, we choose this method: the intensive consideration with the MR at ‘the forefront’ makes our advices more well-founded and leads us to understand MR’s support of the statements better in the process of making decisions.
This trajectory has lead to a constructive cooperation between the OCs, teachers and management. Due to the fact that student representatives of the OCs of ISW are involved at the forefront of the educational innovation, confidence and a sense of solidarity towards the final outcome was instilled among them. In the request for consent, the OC included a statement that students get a permanent seat within each subproject. On a monthly basis, we have consultative meetings with all students occupying these seats.
We, as the OC, notice that students and staff are very willing to participate in the thinking process about issues that are at play within the institute. We also notice that feedback is an important condition with which we can make this thinking process successful. If we do not provide feedback on a specific input on time, the students and teaches will be less willing to participate in the next thinking process. This has been the case with the process of educational innovation, but holds equally true for course evaluations and student contentment assessments.
Challenges for the future
Currently, this OC consists of thirteen students and two advising teachers. In most cases, teachers are present at the meetings, but not as members of the OC. This has traditionally been the case. The fact that teachers are present in small numbers in our OC, does not mean we do not represent their viewpoints: before we formulate an advice on a certain topic, we invite the teachers as guests to the OC. Who we decide to invite depends on the topic. We realise that, in relation to the forthcoming Act reinforcement of administrative power, we need to work on a fifty-fifty division of students-teachers. Perhaps an advantage is that we will become more broadly informed, yet it also presents a risk of students being overwhelmed in the OC. We learned that other OCs prevent students from being overwhelmed by: making a student the chair of the OC, have a pre-consultation with the student representatives of the OC and forming thematic groups of students that help a student representative of the OC in thinking processes. We are yet to decide which of these tips are appropriate for us.
‘Once we get more teacher representatives in the OC, the student representatives should not be overwhelmed.’