Student participation


Through its activities, the ISO aims to continuously strengthen the position of students at universities of applied sciences and universities. It does this partly by maintaining close contact with students from the (central) participation councils. The ISO endorses the important role that (student) participation plays in the development of higher education. The student participation councils have several functions within the ISO: (1) they control (the execution of) the institution’s policy, (2) they come up with innovative ideas themselves to further improve education, (3) they advise others by sharing experiences, and (4) they think actively about the position of the ISO in the representation of students in the Netherlands. The student participation board maintains a critical but constructive attitude in this respect.

In order to fulfil these functions, it is important that the student participation body is well informed about the content and the process. The ISO has been committed to facilitating student participation as much as possible. On the one hand, the ISO does this by putting needs and issues on the agenda at national level. On the other hand, the ISO does this by providing knowledge about substantive portfolios and by training members where this is desirable for the effective holding of the position of student member in the representative body.

Current affairs

The past few years have seen many changes in the position of the employee participation body. Partly due to the Strengthening of Governance Act and the introduction of the quality agreements, the (decentralised) representative body has been better positioned within the decision-making process. This important change is a good development in order to better represent the interests of education stakeholders in the formation of policy.

These changes have resulted in employee participation taking on more responsibilities. It is therefore important that the employee participation body is a good partner that can discuss the content of policy. However, we have noticed that the level of facilitation and support can differ greatly between educational institutions and between levels of participation. The ISO recognises that good facilitation is necessary as a foundation for strong and substantive employee participation.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused many changes in the way education is conducted at institutions. Employee participation plays an essential role in picking up signals and checking whether policy remains studyable during the crisis.

The ISO sees a number of structural problems that affect a large number of councils. For example, employee participation is not always involved in decision-making processes at an early stage, which results in a lack of influence on important documents concerning the future of the institution. In addition, about half of the council members feel that they are sometimes or usually only informed at a late stage. This makes it more difficult for councillors to take a stand and to place questions in the right context. Finally, it is noted that there is a minimal capacity to take initiative, which is mainly explained by the minimal possibilities that are offered for this.

Viewpoint of the ISO

Conversation with stakeholders within an institution is essential for the actual implementation of policies. If a policy is not in line with the views, professional logic and vision of the students and staff, it will not be possible to implement the written policy. Participation is an important means of facilitating this conversation between management and stakeholders. That is why it is important that the participation structure is involved in the various policy processes.

The ISO emphasises that this requires a culture of involvement on the part of the institution and the student. Participation is a consultative partner that can effectively and substantively discuss policy. A precondition for this is that council members are facilitated to a sufficient extent. And that the participation can function in a position that is not conditional on factors such as the experience of the members and the goodwill of the institution’s management.