‘Space for lecturers and students to make their own choices and to develop’
‘The smaller the group, the better the debate’: a statement that certainly would apply to the 21st and final public session to explore the strategic plan. A handful of students, lecturers, researchers and supporters attended the evening debate on education on 10 December. The small scale of the event allowed a lively discussion to emerge, with everyone having enough room to share their opinion or vision.
Over the past five years, Utrecht University has invested heavily in plans to raise its education to a higher level. But is it enough? What else needs to happen if we are to prepare students for the world ten years into the future? What types of professionals will be needed, and what kind of expertise and competencies will they need? And what kind of social attitudes and responsibilities does Utrecht University want its students to have?
After first breaking into three groups for discussions, participants were invited to reassemble and to give their thoughts on various topics:
- ‘Students need to be able to connect with people from other spheres and to work with people who think differently (cultures, educational backgrounds, ways of thinking), as this will make them better prepared for the future.
- ‘Interculturality and diversity are the tools and foundations for achieving a good education and making students fundamentally prepared for future challenges.’
- ‘You actually need to be extremely specialised to eventually be able to take an interdisciplinary approach and achieve good cross-pollination.’
- ‘It doesn’t seem possible for every programme to be general or broad.’
- ‘It’s still important for staff policy to include diversity.’
- ‘If you put a lot of yourself into your Bachelor’s degree, it brings added value to a Master’s.’
- ‘Don’t change yourself, but celebrate and make good use of differences.’
- ‘Students need to take, but also be given responsibility for their own academic and personal development. They need to make more conscious choices to find their path and shape their education and career around it.’
- ‘Less focus on passing courses and acquiring knowledge and skills; more focus on “selfhood” and becoming a balanced professional.’
- ‘Personal responsibility in education only works if students are able to make choices, and have the courage to do so; some don’t. Lecturers and working methods aren’t yet geared towards this.’
- ‘The output mentality has led to university education resembling that of a school.’
- ‘At Utrecht University teaching is undervalued compared to research. You can progress within a teaching role on paper, but not in practice.’
- ‘Teaching is seen as a necessary hurdle for progression in research. That’s why the teaching style is like a school; there’s no time to do it any other way.’
- ‘We’re a university: lecturing and doing high-level research should go hand in hand.’
- ‘Is Utrecht’s educational leadership any more developed than at most other universities? That depends on your perspective and your position within the University.’
- ‘Directors of education should have more power, because heads of departments often got there through a research-focused career path and are oriented towards that.’
- ‘How is it possible for a junior lecturer to be named lecturer of the year twice, but not have a permanent appointment?’
- ‘We choose people based on their doctoral thesis and good research, not because they will improve teaching.’
- ‘You can also provide teaching within a research setting; that’s a gold standard which deserves structural funding.’
‘Greater awareness of questions from the world around us.’ It’s not the first time we’ve heard this appeal during a Strategic Plan debate. In conclusion: ‘A genuinely future-proof Utrecht University will need to give lecturers and students room to make their own choices and to develop. Look for connections in every possible field and look beyond boundaries.’
What do you think?
The education debate concludes the exploration and feedback phase of the Strategic Plan, which started in October. All of the feedback received so far will now be compiled and tested among consultative bodies, students, staff and management. After some fine-tuning, in July 2016 the Strategic Plan will be adopted by the University Council and the Supervisory Board. You can respond to the debate reports on the intranet or on the Strategic Plan website. Keep an eye on the Strategic Plan website for information on the on-going process.