Working together only way to create equal opportunities
‘Systematic, coherent, comprehensive policy for the long-term,’ is key to initiatives by different groups within the University to collectively reinforce their quality, says Diversity Officer Isabel Hoving. On Thursday 15 June 2017 the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) visited Leiden University. During the visit Isabel Hoving and other staff members, students and DOCS students from the VU University Amsterdam emphasised the importance of working together and the active role of students.
At the Social and Behavioural Sciences Faculty, policy staff from the education ministry were given presentations by various members of the University and by students. Diversity officer Isabel Hoving stressed that there is no single solution to diversity issues such as study results, equal opportunities, drop-out rates and discrimination. What’s needed is a range of measures and a link between research and policy. And it’s even more important to work together. ‘It is a tough subject but in the end, it’s all about working with people. Which is why the role of students themselves is incredibly important.’
Front-runner in diversity policy
Leiden University is the first university to have drawn up a formal diversity policy. The students who have committed to work on the policy also work together with students from universities of applied sciences as well as medical students from the VU in Amsterdam who set up DOCS: Diversity. Openness. Culture. Students.
'Students are POPcorners'!
The Leiden students gave presentations on their work within the POPcorner at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, which is now in its seventh year. Here again they emphasised that it’s important to give space to initiatives created by students themselves. ‘Students are ‘POPcorners’! Often they are the ones who know the best solutions for problems and how to implement them. By investing in these active students you contribute to the social and academic development of all students.'
Buddy system, Daily Dutch and e-POPcorner
One such initiative is the buddy system set up by students to match first-years with older students acting as guides. ‘Recently one of our senior buddies cycled every day to the exams with a first-year student who had terrible exam nerves. Two psychology students offer daily Dutch language training for international students. ‘This way they can learn to speak Dutch straightaway and particularly the everyday language we all speak’. Other students give tips, training and publish knowledge clips online through the e-POPcorner and Facebook group which POPcorner uses to promote all its activities.
Criticism and criteria
Staff are also investing in diversity. In 2015 the Sounding Board on Diversity Policy was set up to give feedback on the University's diversity policy. Coordinator Jasper Bitter and member of the Sounding Board group Amir Ali Abadi made it clear that the people in the group are by no means all 'yes men'. A critical attitude is essential and we really have to guard against policy fatigue.' These ideas were also shared by coordinator of teaching Annebeth Simonz and Professor by Special Apointment Carolien Rieffe, who showed how from the Honours Academy even when selecting for Pre-University as wel as the Honours College talent and background are already taken into account. ‘Criteria are often still based on excellence, but we want to make sure that 'search groups' are used to recruit a diverse student population. That doesn't necessarily mean lowering the criteria, and it does mean preparing thoroughly for university. Getting into the university is important, but staying inside and feeling at home here are equally important.'
The policy officers at OCW said they were impressed with all the presentations and initiatives. They recognised the power held by the facultities and were full of praise for the approach taken by students and staff. 'The key is being willing to listen.' Hoving told them that this is where gains can be made. 'Everyone supports it but lecturers, for example, have very little time for training courses because of the already too high pressure of work.' OCW has set up the Equal Opportunities Alliance, that organised the conference on 'How can we make higher education more inclusive?' on 6 July 2017. The invitation is to hold further talks at the conference and to use all the topics discussed during the morning session.