How does participation in decision-making work at a university?
Participation in decision-making at universities is a critical, professional form of participation which suits the nature of the university. It is organised in different ways. For example, each university has a representative advisory council, but this will consist of a student council and works council at one university, and of a joint council of students and staff at another. The representative advisory council at universities is democratically elected and receives professional training during the council year. Members of representative advisory bodies get time, financial compensation and professional support to enable them to fulfil their tasks as well as possible.
Universities traditionally have a culture that embraces a critical attitude and opposition. That culture is a great good, as well-organised opposition and constructive debate improve the quality of governance. In order to have a board which is democratic, professional and efficient, experiments with different forms of participation in decision-making have taken place since the 1970s: from joint governance under the Act of Administrative Reform at Universities 1970 (Wet op de Universitaire Bestuurshervorming 1970) to participation in decision-making since the University Government (Modernisation) Act (Wet Modernisering Universitaire Bestuursorganisatie) (1997). This Act has led, among other things, to the professional participation in decision-making we currently have.
Right of consent for the key elements of the budget
Since the introduction of the student loan system, the participation council has the right to vote on the key elements of the budget. The idea is that when students need to invest more in their studies, they should also have more influence on the spending of public education funds.
The key elements of the budget are:
1. Changes to the Internal Allocation Model of government contribution
2. Budget for strategic policy priorities (or postponing, abolishing or terminating priorities) in the fields of education, research and management
3. Budget for the investment in real estate.
At individual level the universities, in consultation with the co-participation council, further develop these agreements about the key elements of the budget. Besides they schedule on which time the topic will be discussed.
Introduction of the Enhanced Governance Powers (Higher Education) Act (Wet versterking bestuurskracht)
At the beginning of 2016, the Enhanced Governance Powers (Higher Education) Act (Wet versterking bestuurskracht) was discussed and approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. An important amendment to this act is the right to vote for the programme committee on some aspects of the design of the program. The universities consider it important to improve the quality culture and to strengthen the programme committees. It is important that the programme committee is well positioned in the total package of participation in decision-making.
Degree programme committees
It is important that both staff and students show commitment, as support is essential for each board at the university. Councils and committees have been established at all levels of the universities, in which all branches can be represented. However, sometimes there is a lack of interest to fulfil these roles. In addition to the formal and already existing frameworks, it is also important that there is an informal culture of participation.
The VSNU recognises this in the legislative proposal, which allocates the primary task of the programme's quality to the programme committee. Genuine improvement of education takes place close to the primary process, i.e. at the level of the programme committees. Universities want to improve the quality culture by strengthening the programme committees. It will have to be decided in the time to come how this can best be done. Important in this respect is the proper positioning of the programme committees in the total package of participation in decision-making. A situation where the programme committee is placed in a position which conflicts with the role of the faculty council must be prevented. The same applies to a situation where embedding participation in decision-making deeply in the organisation results in the power also being based there. The latter also leads to fragmentation and unmanageability.
In collaboration with the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), ISO, LSVb, VMH, LOVUM, SOM and LOF, the first participation monitor has been issued. The participation monitor is presented every two year on the National Day of Participation in Decision-Making. The purpose of the monitor is to analyse the current quality of participation in decision-making, and to strengthen the participation culture where possible. The first two participation monitors showed that members of representative advisory bodies are positive about the attitude of governors. Discussions with the board take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust and agreements are observed. The influence of the representative advisory council and the training of its members could be improved. A further discussion between governors and members of representative advisory bodies is necessary in this respect, as training is very important for the proper functioning of the councils. Councils also feel they do not have enough influence on performance agreements and finance at the moment. The monitor's results should help to get the discussion started between members of representative advisory bodies and members of the executive board.