Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Debate about the modern university
MAASTRICHT. “Is there a problem? If so, what exactly is the problem? Is there a crisis? Do we need demands of the New University Maastricht?” The debate about the modern university, last Tuesday evening in a crowded lecture hall on the Tongersestraat, attended by not only students, but also by many deans, the entire Executive Board and other members of staff, has been going on for some time already.
Earlier that evening, René Gabriëls announced on behalf of the NUM that the New University Maastricht would be presenting demands to the Executive Board next Monday and will ask the Executive Board for a reaction. But in the first part of the debate, there has not been much heated discussion on the call for more democracy, less emphasis on returns, publish less but better, and a more favourable student-staff ratio. Points that not only NUM, but also Frank Huisman from Science in Transition (SiT), University Council member Tobias Heldt and Carijn Beumer from the VAWO union, put forward during their short introductions.
The entire debate is characterised by the fact that many points are raised and experiences are exchanged. There is briefly some excitement when a student announces that it took the occupation of the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam and the founding of the New University to lower work pressure for Maastricht lecturers and to reduce the number of temporary contracts (70 per cent, said Beumer from VAWO) at Maastricht University. Executive President Martin Paul, who had initially said that he was mainly there to listen, jumps up: “That’s not true. The NUM was not needed to tackle these problems. We already allocated more money in 2014 to reduce work pressure. And we already said we would reduce the number of temporary appointments to 22 per cent, which is incorporated in the new collective labour agreement, before the occupation of the Maagdenhuis and the founding of NUM.” A little later, when someone addresses him indirectly about this, he apologises for his emotional outburst. “It was in the heat of the discussion.”
Professor Hans Kasper from the School of Business and Economics is in complete agreement with the points put forward by SiT, NUM and other speakers, he says. In particular SiT’s criticism on the standard of the European Union that 50 per cent of the people must complete an academic study programme, could have come from him. “We have too many students. Our staff has fewer hours and much more work.” He refers to his own experiences as programme director, but also to the figures on standard hours, which Beumer from VAWO presented at the beginning of the evening: “In 1995, a member of staff had 45 hours to supervise a master’s thesis, in 2013/2014 that was 12 hours. In 1995, a tutor had 75 hours to teach a block, not including the checking of exams. That is now 45 hours, including the checking of exams.” Kasper continues: “The general level is dropping because of the 50 per cent standard. We have no time for the really good students.” A student from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences adds: “We only cover the basics in our courses. We have one assignment on Kant. One assignment! Our problem is that we focus too much on interdisciplinarity. We need more specialists.” There is – for the first and last time this evening – a low “boo” when he has finished.
Opinions on the standard hours are divided. Some call it a “huge problem” and spend three times as much time on education than should be the case according to the standard hours. “ Others feel that it is perfectly possible. The interim dean of the University College, Teun Dekker, reacts in a different way: “I have the greatest job in the world, I have the privilege to teach young people. I know payment is poor and that it is hard work, but despite all that, I will continue to do it. I have no control over the government, or over research financer NWO. I can only influence my own work as a lecturer.”
A more fundamental problem is pointed out on various sides: academic staff is so busy seeking research money – after all, the competition is fierce – and publishing articles – staff is assessed on this – that education gets pushed into a corner. There should be a better balance between research and education. Beumer: “It’s a failure of the system. We have to change this from the bottom. How can we create a voice that is heard by the minister? We must do this together.” But how are we going pay for this better balance between research and education, someone wants to know. “The money that comes from the introduction of the lending system,” says Lieke Hettinga (UCM graduate and now a master’s student at the University of Amsterdam) who together with Olav de Wit (student member of the University Council) is chairing the debate.
The final topic to be dealt with is the democratic level of the councils. Some have the impression that the boards put aside many of the issues that the councils have put forward and doubt the transparency. “There is only democracy up to a certain point.” Another student complains about the University Council’s website. There are no minutes of meetings on the English website. Indeed, a mistake, University Council member Tobias Heldt acknowledges. “But send me an e-mail and I will forward them to you.”
How to increase voter rates in the upcoming university elections, is another point. Heldt calls for a compulsory visit to the university ballot box. The debate comes to an end at 22:00hrs. with an appeal from De Wit to go and vote in May.