‘Universities should be run by students’

| Michaela Nesvarova

‘Universities should be run by students.’ That is the main message of an opinion article, which was written by UT’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) and recently published in the Dutch national newspaper FD. What makes the authors think that students are qualified to manage a large organization, such as the University of Twente?

Photo by: Gijs van Ouwerkerk

We’ve met up with Elisabeth de Vijlder and Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn, who are two of this year’s UIF fellows together with Lennart van de Velde and Sarah Roediger.

In your article, you stated that it is beneficial for universities to be run by students. You explained that it allows students to gain experience, which is beneficial for the students, but can you explain how would such a structure be beneficial for the university itself?

Elisabeth de Vijlder: ‘Students are more flexible and come up with many new ideas. Now the university has many employees who simply work from nine to five. Students work differently – they have a cause and they work hard on it. Employees work mainly for money, students don’t, they care mostly about gaining experience and they try hard to achieve something in their position.’

Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn: ‘Moreover, students are the ones who really experience the university, they know where the problems are and what would work best.’

Why do you think students are qualified to run a university, an organization involving thousands of people?

Elisabeth de Vijlder: ‘At this point, the university of course can’t be run completely by students, but it would be great if they could participate more, take over some responsibilities. We believe students should be integrated into every layer and department of the university. If you do that, you can get a fresh perspective.’

Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn: ‘Students could be overseen by qualified people and slowly integrate into the running of the university. This would allow them to bring their creative mindset. However, the end goal is for the university to be run fully by students. But that would naturally be a long process.’

Do you really believe that a university run only by students would work?

Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn: ‘Yes, if you would slowly integrate students and have the more experienced students guide the younger ones, it would work, because students really understand what it means to be at the university, what other students need.’

How would students find the time to manage a university? After all, they also need to study.

Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn: ‘They could get a board year out or participate on the basis of a part-time job. Also, they could work in teams, work shifts and divide responsibilities among many people.’

Elisabeth de Vijlder: ‘It’s important to realize that if we accomplished this and had a university fully run by students, it would be a completely different university than we have today. It would not work the same. The structure, the atmosphere and the philosophy would be completely different.’

In your article, you also mentioned that such a structure would contribute to a better entrepreneurial climate at the university. Can you explain how?

Mélanie Droogleever Fortuyn: ‘If you allow students to do something out of the box, something besides their regular study, they can experience the real business climate, understand how companies work and get contacts. They would get the entrepreneurial mindset and could adapt the university to what they want it to be.’

There already are many students active within the university. Student Union, for example. You don’t think that is sufficient?

Elisabeth de Vijlder: ‘No, students should be involved a lot more. Student Union works really high up and then there are low level associations, but in all the layers in between, students are absent. And in their current roles, students have constraints, but our idea is to allow them to be creative.’

Since this is your ultimate goal as the UIF fellows, are you already doing something to achieve it?

Elisabeth de Vijlder: ‘This is of course a very long-term goal, first we need to change the university structure and the mindset, which will take a while. Right now we are trying to make people aware of all the things students can do. It would be great, though, if the future UIF fellows continued with this plan and made it their long-term goal too.’

The original opinion article (in Dutch) written by the UIF fellows can be found here. English version is available at this link.