Social safety for students: education minister wants action, not studies

The time for research into social safety is over, Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf said yesterday in a short debate on the topic in the House of Representatives. He believes it is more important to improve the situation for both students and staff in higher education without delay.

Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf visiting the UT.

The debate was over in a matter of minutes and only opposition party PvdA and coalition party D66 took part. PvdA referred to a far-reaching study into social safety at Dutch universities and knowledge institutions, conducted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Member of the House Habtuma de Hoop urged the government to initiate a similar study for the student population.

However, Dijkgraaf saw no need to pursue this option. ‘As far as I’m concerned, the time for studies is over and it’s now high time for action,’ he insisted. ‘I have already announced this as part of the national action plan to combat inappropriate sexual behaviour, which of course is closely related to social safety. We have a place to start and there is plenty in the pipeline.’

Student associations

Member of the House Jeanet van der Laan (D66) called for a special focus on the situation in student associations, which are ill-equipped to handle issues relating to misconduct according to a recent report by current affairs programme Pointer. Van der Laan points out the role of universities and universities of applied sciences in dealing with this issue, stating that ‘they should make firm agreements with student organisations, and offer them supervision and possibly even training’.

Dijkgraaf understood the reasoning behind this comment. He stressed that the primary concern of the associations should be to ensure social safety within their own ranks, but that the institutions should also be involved as ‘there is often a financial relationship, for example in the form of the administrative grants that subsidise these associations’.

This puts the institutions in a position to oblige associations to pay attention to social safety. The minister also stated his intention to hold talks with the associations. This spring, the government is due to present an integrated plan on social safety in the higher education sector.

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