In May, students and staff at Wageningen University & Research will elect a new WUR Council. What topics do students and staff in this central representative body actually work on? Here are the top three from last year.
One of the students who is on the current WUR Council
photos Guy Ackermans
1 The position of Wageningen Marine Research
Wageningen Marine Research is currently an independent research institute within WUR, like Rikilt, but the Executive Board wants it to become part of one of the science groups. In 2016 the board proposed making Marine Research part of the Animal Sciences Group (ASG). But WUR Council has its doubts. ‘We feel the Executive Board didn’t put enough thought into that proposal,’ says council member Marco Otte. ‘You could just as easily make Wageningen Marine Research part of the Environmental Sciences Group (ESG), or leave it as an independent entity. We want better arguments.’
The representative bodies in the individual institutes — Wageningen Marine Research, ASG and ESG — differ in their opinions on the matter and WUR Council does not want to have the casting vote as the central council, says Otte. ‘It’s up to the board to review all the options. We can give them much better advice if we have an overview of the most realistic options with all the pros and cons. We want the board to take its time and consider the alternatives carefully. We will then look at the options together with the three individual councils and decide which one is best for the staff and the continuity of the institute.’
Otte can see that the board is taking this input into account. ‘Louise Fresco recently visited Marine Research to talk to the people working there about the institute’s future. I don’t think she would have done that if we hadn’t initiated that debate.’ The final decision on the position of Marine Research will probably be taken in May or June.
2 Growth in student numbers
Wageningen University is popular among both Dutch and international students. The constantly growing numbers are putting pressure on staff and on teaching facilities. The question is how WUR should deal with this. Should it put up a third education building on campus or can we make more efficient use of the existing buildings by having classes in the evening and smarter timetables?
‘We have not yet issued our formal advice on how we would like to deal with the growth,’ says Joost van Opheusden of WUR Council. ‘That’s because the Executive Board wanted to run the trial with evening classes first. The board didn’t need our approval for that. WUR Council did give some informal advice. For example, we recommended having a better spread of the modules over the terms so that more modules can be scheduled. WUR Council also didn’t want any evening classes for first-years as they are still in the process of building up a student life. The board didn’t follow that recommendation.’
The students on WUR Council are opposed to evening classes while staff only want them if there is no alternative, says Van Opheusden. ‘We are in favour of building additional teaching facilities on campus.’
Things will get interesting over the next few months. Van Opheusden: ‘We are due to discuss the report on the pilot with the rector, Arthur Mol, this month. As far as I’m concerned, this should be an open discussion. The priority for WUR Council is to maintain the high quality of the teaching and make sure students and staff don’t end up with even more pressure from work.’
Read WUR Council’s News Flash on the growth here.
3 Spending extra teaching funds
A few years ago, the council acquired the formal right of consent to the university’s budget. That was why WUR Council was able to attach conditions to its approval of Wageningen University’s budget for 2017. As a result, an investigation is due to take place into expenditure of the extra funds that the Executive Board has made available for education in recent years.
This year, the university is allocating an additional 4.2 million euros for teaching in order to cope with rising student numbers. Additional investments were made in previous years too, but WUR Council doubts whether teaching genuinely benefits from this money. Council member Guido Camps: ‘We are getting a lot of signals from students that they don’t get enough supervision in the Master’s phase and that there aren’t enough workplaces. As a PhD candidate, I also notice that we’re getting busier and busier supervising students, because the number of students is growing but not the number of PhD candidates.’
The investigation requested by WUR Council into the use of the extra funds should show whether enough additional lecturers have been appointed. Camps: ‘Suppose the number of students for the modules in a particular chair group grows by 10 per cent and that gives the group enough cash for 1.2 lecturers. What happens then? I think the money for the 0.2 lecturer gets put in the general kitty. If that happens several years in a row, things may go wrong. That’s why we want to know what’s happening at the chair group level. The aim is to maintain the high quality of teaching while still growing.’
Read WUR Council's News Flash on teaching funds here.
WUR Council is the central employee and student representative body at Wageningen University & Research, representing all parts of the organization. The council is formed through a two-tiered system. Staff in each part of the organization elect their local council once every three years. Those councils send a total of 16 staff representatives to WUR Council. Students elect a Student Council every year and eight members of that Student Council then sit on WUR Council. A further two university staff members and two PhD candidates are elected directly to WUR Council. You end up with a WUR Council with 28 members.
The elections for the new representative body will be held from 29 May to 6 June. Students and staff will be sent an invitation to vote by email. You have until 18 April to register as a candidate by contacting your own council or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the red
WUR Council almost never gives its advice on WUR organizational units that are in the red and have to downsize, as is currently the case with Wageningen Environmental Research. That is because this is a matter for the individual council in that science group. The central council only gives its advice if cutbacks at one WUR unit have knock-on effects on other units. In such situations, it consults with the individual organization’s council. Furthermore, all the individual councils collaborate in the WUR-wide working group ‘From work to work’. It has drawn up a guide for managers on how to deal appropriately with staff who have become surplus to requirements.