More say for foreign students
The allocation of part of the tuition fees varies between the different MSc programmes. Whether you get free copying, study books or a sports card, depends on the programme you choose. Foreign students feel that these kind of decisions should be based on a general policy in which they at least want to have a say.
Animal science director Henk Udo obtains students' opinions through personal conversations and evaluations each term. Animal science has chosen not to have a student on the programme committee since the committee functions simultaneously as an examination committee. Udo discloses: Foreign students are more mature and experienced compared to the regular Dutch students. They usually have a balanced opinion about the curriculum and courses, but you often have to drag this out of them. They are not used to speaking up." This is no problem whatsoever for the nine motivated members of ISP. They stress the importance of being kept informed and allowed to have a say in decision making.
ISP member Khalid Shah says that organising participation, in the same way as for Dutch students, will also mean the recognition of MSc education. He continues: If international education is only regarded as a sideline, WAU can hardly justify its claim to being an international university. Besides, if WAU gets things well organised, that will be good publicity for the university. It works both ways."
Simon Kafari, also an ISP member, is impressed by the positive attitude the university's management and the invitations ISP has received to exchange opinions. He admits though, that he sometimes finds it difficult to make out whether the accommodating attitude of WAU's governors is sincere or whether they are just paying lip service and conducting a kind of international diplomacy.
ISP chairwoman, Susanna Rijninks, feels that university staff often assume that they are already looking after the interests of foreign students sufficiently. Members of staff involved in MSc education are striving for a better position for international education. Staff and students have to some extent common interests, but the latter are entitled to an independent voice. All parties agree that international student involvement has to be easy and achieve rapid results, as the average MSc student spends only about 17 months in Wageningen.
In WAU's main building the finishing touches are being put to a proposal, which deals with the decision making in international education. The memo is not yet public but several sources imply that it will include proposals to formalise student membership in programme committees, in the Standing Committee on Education (VCO) and incorporate the ISP into the Wageningen Student Organisation (WSO).
Secretary of the VCO, Jan den Dulk, discloses that in future MSc programme committees should function in the same way as their Dutch equivalents (ROCs), which would include student membership. These committees manage and monitor the study programme as far as the quality of the contents and planning of the courses are concerned.
At the moment the programme committees also function as examination committees. These mixed responsibilities hamper student involvement as students are not allowed to sit on examination committees.
Den Dulk stresses that the need for separate examination committees will become inevitable when the MSc programmes become more thesis oriented and students have more freedom to put together their own study programme. Judging the quality of programmes will involve far more work than testing the quality of the current programmes.
The VCO is establishing a subcommittee, which will deal specifically with international education. Professor Ankie Niehof, vice chair of the VCO, will chair this subcommittee. The chairperson of ISP, two MSc students and Udo, representing the MSc programme directors will sit on the committee.
Udo already has two urgent matters which work out badly for MSc students and which he would like to raise in the first committee meeting. Firstly, the decrease in the number of examination periods, which means that MSc students will only have one chance for examination retakes in August. Secondly, the new form of offering courses in modules of six weeks has repercussions for foreign students. Timetabling courses for regular and MSc students is a difficult task. This has led to a situation where compulsory courses for MSc students are scheduled in the third term. Both these measures are problematic since most MSc students are away doing their thesis research in the third term.
ISP members feel that increasing freedom of choice in the programmes and improving the poor level of English among staff and fellow students are possible points to be addressed by the VCO subcommittee.
Finally, if the ISP could be accommodated within the Dutch Student Union (WSO), this could have advantages for the ISP. The panel will be able to make use of facilities, such as computers and telephone. Furthermore, ISP will benefit from the WSO's experience of communicating with the university management. Both Kafari and Shah are a bit hesitant about becoming part of the WSO. They fear that the general interests of the Union might overshadow ISP's identity. If ISP is to become part of WSO the position of chair would move to the WSO. The ISP chair falls vacant again at the beginning of August. Shah remarks that foreign students should be able to apply for the job.
To a foreigner, the Dutch landscape is something striking. There is this incredible flatness and a never ending horizon, a horizontal line from which the entire landscape hangs," says Peter Sansom. And there always is a lot of sky visible," adds Kaat Koekoek.
Sansom and Koekoek both work at the visual arts department of the Centre for Artistic Education (CKV) in Wageningen. During the coming months, CKV is offering some new courses with have an international flavour.
Both foreign artists, Sansom and Koekoek, explain that, although the courses are open to all, they are especially interested in the participation of people from other countries and cultures. The first course is entitled The Dutch landscape in a new perspective.
The two artists will bring their own non-Dutch view of the landscape to the course, and they plan to take the participants out to draw and paint the river landscape around Wageningen and Rhenen. The new perspective also refers to a technique which will be used in the course. Koekoek explains that a figure can be cut out from a sheet of cardboard and the frame that emerges can be used to look through at the landscape. She continues, This frame can be a square but it can also be triangular or irregular in shape, thus altering the participant's view."