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How can the municipality of Leiden improve its interaction with ‘internationals’? Public Administration students find out

Second-year students from the Dutch Public Administration bachelor track Policy, Administration, and Organisation (BBO) worked on a field assignment for the municipality of Leiden as part of the BBO II: Multi-level governance course. They presented their findings during an interactive session: ‘It’s always nice to contribute to something, actually being able to help the municipality,’ says student Laura Visscher.

The research assignment provided by the municipality asked the students to find out how the municipality could better interact with and get ‘internationals’ from different countries more involved. The students looked at the differences in political administrative systems between the countries of origin and the Netherlands and Leiden for a number of topics such as housing policy, education policy and citizen participation.

Students share their findings in the interactive session

Link between education, research and daily practice

Assistant Professor Carola van Eijk created the course. ‘It’s intended to introduce student to working in the field. That is what I like and think is important to do and fits in with my work as a scientist. I want to create a link between education and research and the work field. I always say: “I conduct research for myself and the academic debate, but I also like to make a similar effort for society.” In the end, everybody should be able to benefit from the results, it should land somewhere.’

Improve interaction with ‘internationals’

The students’ findings will certainly land with the municipality of Leiden but the groups of students will first present their results, including problems and recommendations, to each other and combine them in a visualisation. Van Eijk: ‘The problem the municipality of Leiden asked us to tackle, was the subject of internationalisation. The municipality has a large number of different types of ‘internationals’ who are living and working in the city. Students, expats, immigration workers. The municipality would like to improve its interaction with these internationals by making them aware of the facilities that are available and getting them involved with policy. The question for our students was to compare systems from an administrative standpoint by means of interviews and documents. Finding out the problems these groups run into, what are the similarities and differences, and come up with recommendations that will allow the municipality to improve their interaction.’

Sander Kieboom

Findings will be taken into account

In the session taught by Sander Kieboom, the students addressed the topic of education. Kieboom: ‘These groups picked Americans, Italians, and Chinese. They also had to find and approach the interview candidates themselves, having been provided with suggestions and tips. The nice thing about this course and this project is that students are collaborating with a partner from the field and that the findings will be taken into account in future policy.’

The students had no trouble identifying problems. They also came up with recommendations. A few problems: the language barrier, a high level of assertiveness is necessary to obtain information, the information provided is incomplete and there is a lot of ignorance among internationals as to the available facilities.

Taste of working in the field

Laura Visscher’s group looked at the accessibility into higher education for Italians. In order to find interview candidates, Laura and her fellow students used informal means. ‘I’ve send a lot of DMs to expats on Instagram,’ she smiles. The problems she encountered were very divers. ‘Because everybody has different expectations, but what it comes down to is that it’s very difficult for the municipality to get in touch with these people. Which is why we recommend organising events, to improve the flow of information that’s being provided and to work with a buddy system to make it easier for internationals to learn the language.’ Laura really enjoyed the assignment provided by the municipality. ‘It’s nice to contribute to something, to actually be able to help the municipality and that your research won’t end up in some back drawer. I also found it helpful to have a taste of what it is like to interact with and work in the field.’

The course is a success for Carola van Eijk when her students know wat working in multilevel governance actually means, its complexity and its beauty. ‘I also hope that they’ve gotten a good idea of the work field and that we can provide the municipality with a nice final result at the end of it. With fresh new ideas that the municipality can use alongside its own ideas to further develop their policy.’

Text: Margriet van der Zee

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