Organisation - February 4, 2010

VHL Ahead - a step forwards or a flop?

VHL Ahead, the strategic plans for the future of Van Hall Larenstein, has been the subject of a great deal of criticism coming from Van Hall Larenstein over the past few weeks. Concerned staff feel they have not been consulted in the process. Is VHL Ahead an incentive to think about the future?

VHL Wageningen staff learn about VHL Ahead from the directors Peter Badoux and Ellen Marks
Gerrie Koopman
secretary of the Van Hall Institute employees' consultative body (MR), a member of the joint employees' consultative body (GMR) and Environmental Sciences lecturer (VHL Leeuwarden)
'The agency that is in charge of the communication and arranges the meetings is stationed in Wageningen. These people have no idea at all what is going on in Leeuwarden and they have certainly never been here. If this is a sign of how things are going to be in the future, then I think full integration of the two schools is as far away as ever.
All this commotion in Leeuwarden is due to a lack of communication. If you don't communicate with people and then it seems to be a done deal, people tend to get obstinate. It is really not that they are unwilling, but people have the feeling that decisions are being made about them without involving them. Somewhere along the line we lost each other and now we need to get back in touch. That is why we need to pause for a while. Otherwise it is as if the train just goes careering along.'

Ingrid de Vries
member of the VHL Ahead Operational Excellence working group and Marketing and Communication staff member (VHL Wageningen)
'We really need VHL Ahead. Students' biggest complaint is about the poor information they receive. We also score badly on this aspect in the Guide to Higher Education. That is justified if you look at the organization as a whole.
It is really nice to be in a working group considering the future. Our assignment is clear. Currently there are differences between locations in many processes. If a student at one location wants to take a course at another location, the procedure is very complicated and unclear. We think it would be better to streamline procedures.
There are a number of sessions where the relevant people can give input so that we can get a good picture of what exactly is involved. One of the ideas is a personal page. We are now looking at precisely what information it should contain. We have not yet made any definite decisions.'

Ad Woudstra
chairman of the Garden and Landscape Design programme committee and lecturer (VHL Velp), wrote a critical letter to the directors on behalf of the programme committee
'Looking at the future is not a step backwards but this process is the wrong way to go about it. A closed circle of people come up with a plan and another group works out how to implement it fairly autonomously. The programme committee only gets to read it and respond after that. We feel we have been overlooked. I think it is better to start with a broad discussion. Now a lot of work has gone into the plans, which makes it difficult to go back on them.
For example, we think collaborating in schools - in a similar way to the Wageningen UR science groups - is the wrong approach. Collaborating starts when you get to know each other better, then the rest will follow on naturally. That is better than creating another new structure in the organization. The personal page where students can see what they have to do at a glance is another example of doing things in the wrong order. First the processes themselves need to function smoothly. A personal page is the icing on the cake. So let's start with the cake.'

Simone Geelkerken
second year Biotechnology student (VHL Leeuwarden), a member of Van Hall Institute MR and the GMR
'VHL Ahead will only succeed if there is broad support. At the moment people feel there is a top-down approach. For example, some lecturers cannot attend the working conferences because they have classes then. Students are not at all interested in the plans. I think it would be good if the director Ellen Marks were to give a brief talk during the break.
Personally, I'm very enthusiastic. If I talk to my fellow students about it, they can see the advantages too. For instance, it is good to get the sector more involved in the school. That is always a good thing. I also think it is important to make it easier to continue your studies at Wageningen University.
It is true that I am the most positive member of the employees' consultative body. Other people wonder what problems are being solved by VHL Ahead. I don't agree with that. We shouldn't wait until there is a problem. My Walkman was good but my iPod is better.'
 
Dennis de Jager
chairman of Larenstein MR, secretary of the GMR and Land and Water Management lecturer (VHL Velp)
'Personally, I get a really uncomfortable feeling from the results of the entire process in which four teams got to fantasize about the future. For example, the idea of a personal page in which a student can see things like what time his or her lectures are.  I haven't met anyone who thinks that is an amazing idea. It's all very well developing a portal like that but if the underlying systems don't work it won't solve the problems in the day-to-day quality. The community suggestion the teaching concepts working group came up with is another superfluous idea. Students have had their own community for ages, at school and via chat programs, texting and Hyves. They don't need us for that.
The idea behind VHL Ahead is fine but at the moment it is costing a lot of money and they are developing pointless things.'
 
Ellen Marks
VHL managing director
'While it is good for every organization to review its strategy every four or five years, there were two specific reasons for reconsidering our strategy. First, we need more students so that we have the financial means to invest in teaching. The farming and countryside sector is popular and our degree programmes get good accreditation but we do not seem to be able to convert that into an increase in student numbers. Secondly, the working processes at the University of Applied Sciences are not always organized that efficiently.
VHL Ahead has not had a good reception everywhere and that is a pity. We have had some useful comments over the past few weeks. The feedback we give could be improved further and we will be working on that. From now on VHL Ahead will be discussed in the programme team meetings. And plenary meetings will be held on days when no teaching activities are scheduled. This has also been educational for us. It is a pity that confusion has arisen in this important process.' 

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