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University Council: important for every student

The student members of the University Council are now halfway through their term. We asked them what they have so far been able to do for their fellow students, and what is still on the list for the remainder of the year. ‘It's all about refining policies.'

They make no attempt to hide their enthusiasm for this committee work and continually interrupt one another with examples and background information: Maud Pols, Femke van der Meulen and Jolijn Bronneberg are now halfway through their year in the University Council (UR). Pols represents Enterprising Students in Leiden (ONS), Van der Meulen represents the Christian Student Party in Leiden (CSL) and Bronneberg represents the Progressive Student Party (LVS) in the council. Together they look back at this initial period. 

Stricter marking period

Although they are all from different parties, they work closely together. 'The differences between the parties are mainly in their specific focal areas and any issues you put forward yourself,' says Van der Meulen. ‘But there are a lot of topics on which we act jointly in the Council.' One recent occasion when the student members were successful was when as a united front they called for stricter rules to be included in the Course and Examination Regulations about the time allowed for marking exams. They are also trying to arrange, on the basis of a pilot that is now running at the Faculty of Governance & Global Affairs, that when students enrol for a particular subject they are also enrolled directly for the exam. Pols: ‘These may seem like minor things, but they are all points that are important for all students.' 

Watchful eye

‘Fellow students often think that as a council we put an idea or proposal to the UR and that we then vote on it,' says Bronneberg. ‘But there's also a lot of finetuning of the policies that the University puts forward. We more often say 'Yes, but', than 'No, because' to a proposal.' The Council also keeps a watchful eye when any major changes are going on. Pols: ‘Quite recently we were monitoring the move to Wijnhaven, checking whether there was enough space for students and staff.'

Communication to students

This year the student members are focusing more attention on transparency and communication to students, so that the whole student community is up to date with plans and decisions. They want the University budget to be clearer for students so that they, too, can see how much money is going into teaching. That's particularly important right now, the three parties believe, because the money that the Ministry of Education used to spend on student funding is now paid to the universities to invest in teaching. ‘The whole university community, including the students, should be able to see where that money goes,' Van der Meulen adds. 

Innovation in teaching

There's a lot on the agenda in the coming year. Van der Meulen: ‘The University has a new vision on teaching, so in the coming period we'll be spending time looking at teaching innovation.' One aspect of this is offering online lectures. 'We know from our own experience that online lectures are great if you're missed a lecture or when you're revising for exams,' Pols says. 'The facilities for making online lectures are available within the University and the new vision on teaching makes it clear that Leiden wants to offer more online lectures. We are trying to get more support for the faculties and lecturers, for example a central helpdesk.’

Students are listened to

Plans enough, and time is passing rapidly: in May there are already the elections for the student members of the University Council and the Faculty Councils. ‘It's important that people vote, both for the UR and the Faculty Councils. These are your representatives in the policies on teaching and on the University generally,' says Van der Meulen. This is one of the reasons why the student members are working hard on communication with fellow students about what the university does, but also what the UR itself does. A get-to-know-you drinks party was held recently at which the key plans of the UR were presented - a joint plan by the student and staff representatives. 'And on the Day of Participation in the spring we make sure we are in the Faculties to collect inputs from students. You can tell us about everything you thing is bad or good,' says Pols. Van der Meulen: ‘We want to show that students are listened to and that something is done with their comments.' 

The University Council (UR) is the highest participation body within the University, with both students and staff as elected representatives. The official task of the UR is to keep a critical eye on and advise the Executive Board and in relevant cases to participate in decisions on important matters, as is stated in the Higher Education Act. The students in the UR are elected every year - they can stand for a second term -, and the staff members are elected for two years. The elections for student members are in mid-May. 

Do you have any issues you want to pass on to the student members of the UR, or would you like to play an active role in the UR or Faculty Council? If so, send a mail to UR@leidenuniv.nl or follow the UR on Facebook.

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