3.1 Effective sustainability
Sustainability is definitely an important social topic. It is therefore logical that the university takes its responsibility in this. De Vrije Student endorses increasing sustainability and we are pleased that Utrecht University has chosen to tackle sustainability in a broad sense through the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. That is why De Vrije Student is the only party that has made concrete proposals for including these sustainable development objectives in the strategic plan for 2020-2025. De Vrije Student is and remains a strong supporter of concrete sustainability measures, but will continue to resist patronizing and / or symbolic measures such as limiting freedom of choice in canteens or free international train tickets. In this way, sustainability is accessible to every student.
De Vrije Student strongly supports a liveable and sustainable Uithof. Think of waste separation, modern insulation, automatic light sensors, more heat and cold storage and the generation of the required energy by means of solar panels on university buildings. We also warmly welcome plans for a geothermal energy plant, provided that these forms of renewable energy prove to be profitable in the long term. In this way, De Vrije Student wants to make Utrecht University as CO2-neutral as possible. However, this should not become an end in itself: allocating thousands of euros to buy off CO2 emissions, as is currently the plan, is undesirable in our view.
De Vrije Student is also in favor of a wider range of vegetarian and vegan options in the canteens of UU. In addition, healthy options may also be offered cheaper in order to encourage a healthy diet. On the other hand, as far as De Vrije Student is concerned, the canteens should not become more expensive or meat-free, as some advocate within the university. It is ultimately the student's choice whether or not he or she chooses meat. After all, it is undesirable for the university to prescribe a diet for students and to determine what they can and cannot eat.
De Vrije Student also considers it important to prevent waste. That is one of the reasons why we have had a high priority for digitization since our inception and in 2020 we submitted a proposal with the entire council to no longer make it compulsory to submit assignments on paper. Waste also takes place in the canteen and catering. De Vrije Student wants the caterers of the university to offer their leftover food on a platform such as Too Good to Go. This allows the university to limit daily food waste.
However, sustainability should not be used to justify patronizing students and restricting them in their freedoms. A student who eats meat in the canteen should not be put in a damn corner, a smoking student should not be hereditary and partnerships should not be unnecessarily constrained by rigid rules and sustainability guidelines. The university must continue to look realistically at all fields. The university's sustainability vision should not hinder students in their options or future prospects. We cannot therefore count on our support for the call to end cooperation between UU and non-sustainable industries. For many faculties and studies (and alumni), collaboration with these sectors is vital. Sustainability must be pursued and stimulated, but it must not become a chain around the neck for staff and students.
Finally, in our view, there is also a task for the university to increase support for sustainability measures in society. The university has a unique position: it is at the center of society and is usually appreciated by the vast majority of people as a bastion of wisdom and truth-finding. However, this position does carry responsibilities. In recent years, Utrecht University seems to be increasingly developing as a pioneer of far-reaching sustainability measures. Although this position is not surprising for a number of studies and research areas, the university as a whole must be careful not to get off the hook. In order to (re) find public support for climate policy, the university must occupy a middle position in this. Utrecht University can also contribute in its own, unique way to making the Netherlands more sustainable: not by running too far in front of the troops, but by taking the country by the hand and quietly leading to a more sustainable world. In this way, Utrecht University fulfills its mission: to work for a better world.
3.2 For a physical student card
A striking advantage of symbolic, ineffective sustainability at Utrecht University in recent years has been the abolition of the physical student card. The Free Student thinks the idea behind the digital student card is very noble, just like the entire MyUU app. On the other hand, De Vrije Student notices that the digital student card has one very big disadvantage: many places in and outside Utrecht do not recognize the student card and that causes a lot of inconvenience for students, not least because you need a working internet connection for this app . Two members of De Vrije Student were even detained for a short time in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg this year, because the museum staff thought they were being cheated with a fake student card. Of course it is possible to purchase a physical ISIC card for 5 euros, but the problem is that most students only find out after they have experienced problems with the online student card. And the old adage "prevention is better than cure" applies here.
In addition, a nice student card is also a tangible part of the academic community of which the student is a part. That is why De Vrije Student argues for a return to the physical student card in the form of a pass like the rest of Dutch universities. This card can be made from recycled plastic to preserve its sustainable character. Of course, the student must make the choice for this additional physical pass. Finally, the student card can also be combined with the coffee and parking cards, if students have them. Of course this card will then exist next to the MyUU app, so you will always have the additional convenience of your digital card.
3.3 Internationalization: English where necessary, Dutch where possible
There are few subjects in the university community that evoke as many fierce reactions as the Anglicization of the University. The Free Student is not necessarily opposed to English as the language of instruction in certain subjects or courses, but does believe that there should be clear added value and that the quality of the education must be guaranteed. Too often the level of English of both teachers and students does not appear to be sufficient to conduct a high-quality academic debate. The university must therefore stop unnecessarily further angling education.
The Free Student is of the opinion that a subject or study may only be taught in English if a clear added value can be demonstrated. This is also stated in the current language policy of the university: the bachelor is in Dutch unless there are good reasons for deviating from it. In the masters at Utrecht University, both English and Dutch may serve as the language of instruction, as long as there are well-founded reasons for the language of instruction. A good example of a well-founded reason for the Dutch language of instruction is the master's program in Medicine. Students are trained to become a basic physician who can function in Dutch society. An example of a master where English is the logical choice is International Management, since students are trained there for an international (work) environment.
In 2019, the discussion on this topic in political The Hague once again flared up after the University of Twente had announced that it would switch to English entirely. In December last year, this led to a tightening of the law on higher education and scientific research (WHW), which imposes even more additional requirements on a study before being able to switch to the English language. All studies already taught in English will also be tested again against these stricter conditions. De Vrije Student warmly applauds these developments and will ensure that this new policy is complied with at Utrecht University.
After all, Utrecht University remains primarily an institution for and aimed at Dutch society. A large proportion of the students continue to work within national borders. Dutch universities are already supplying entire cohorts of students to the labor market who prove unable to produce Dutch texts of any level, because they have only written in English during their university careers. In order not to make this problem any bigger than it already is, the university should not be angling any further.
Universities at home and abroad often offer International students the opportunity to learn the original language of the country. De Vrije Student believes that Utrecht University should also offer this option widely outside the university colleges. In the year 2018-2019, the university started offering a small number of online introductory courses in the Netherlands & Dutch for international students. De Vrije Student thinks this is a good development, but these courses are not yet sufficiently known.
Also, the level of the Dutch courses is not of such a caliber that international students can manage sufficiently in Dutch. An enriched tourist vocabulary is often insufficient. International students now rely on private companies for higher levels of Dutch. This is not an inviting attitude for students who would like to get to know the Dutch language and culture. De Vrije Student therefore proposes that Utrecht University offer more Dutch courses, also for advanced students.
With this, De Vrije Student catches two birds with one stone. On the one hand, these courses are a great opportunity for international students to develop. This will make it less difficult for them to get along with Dutch student life. This can contribute to reducing the gap between Dutch and international students. On the other hand, these courses mean that not everything has to be translated into English. After all, the international students who take these courses will acquire a passive understanding of Dutch. This means, for example, that not all subjects need to be taught in English to be open to international students. Everyday conversations no longer need to be artificially anglicized.
3.4 Strategic partnerships: stricter conditions
Utrecht University regularly enters into strategic partnerships with other universities or research institutes. De Vrije Student strongly supports this, provided that clear agreements are made about the use of UU funds. In the past, collaborations were entered into (for example with the NIOZ) in which a blank check was practically issued and the institution concerned was allowed to spend millions of money from Utrecht University, without any clear framework or control. One of the reasons for this is that Utrecht University is currently financing nine doctoral trajectories for PhD students from other universities. As far as De Vrije Student is concerned, this is unacceptable and in February 2020 we therefore criticized the Executive Board for this state of affairs. We will continue to be critical of the finances of such partnerships next year.
3.5 Efficient declarations and efficient top incomes
The members of the Executive Board work hard for the university and they are rightly paid a good salary. However, De Vrije Student believes that the university, as a public institution with strong moral authority, is obliged to not let its top administrators earn above the so-called 'Balkenende standard'. Currently Anton Pijpers, the chairman of the Executive Board, is still above that due to a transitional arrangement. The Free Student thinks it is incomprehensible that Pijpers, who has also been tapped several times because of very generous declaration behavior, does not choose to leave the transitional arrangement for what it is and to comply with the Balkenende standard.
De Vrije Student also considers the declaration ceiling of 100,000 euros set in 2019 for the Executive Board, which consists of three members, too high. It is unsaleable that the tuition fees of nearly 50 students disappear in taxi fares and airline tickets for just three people. In 2019, we therefore offered Board President Anton Pijpers a Swapfiets subscription and De Vrije Student will continue to do so in the future. After all, UU money must go to education and research, not to Utrecht taxi center.
3.6 Realistic labor market perspectives
Students invariably indicate that they miss the connection of their education to the labor market. The Free Student therefore wants more work to be done on the labor market perspective within the study. The study program should actively seek contact with the practice to prepare students for the work that they (may) do later. For example, the program can organize interactive sessions with alumni and interesting organizations to give students a better idea of the labor market. Training in this regard must also provide clear and fair information that can be attended on a voluntary basis.
New programs must also be tested internally for macro efficiency in the university. This means, among other things, that we look at the perspectives in society that offer a new education. De Vrije Student wants existing programs to be subjected to a macro-efficiency test. Studies must provide insight into the labor market prospects. Studies with poor prospects could sit at the table with the university to see how the study can be made more interesting for the labor market and better connected to the labor market.
Finally, the range of internships must be broadened and improved. Internships are the gateway to the labor market and it is therefore a shame if these opportunities are not optimally facilitated by the university. Of course there must also be enough space for an internship within the study. It is therefore important that there is a contiguous profiling space, as mentioned in chapter 1.4. This is still a major task for Utrecht University.
3.7 Clear and efficient reference rules
Reference rules regarding fraud and plagiarism are necessary, but these are only effective when these rules are clear to every student at all times. Reference rules often vary per study program or even per subject, which requires good information from the university. After all, it is not the intention that students are judged on unintentional pirating, because they do not know the exact rules. De Vrije Student therefore believes that an online overview should be made available in which it is clear which method of referral is used for which study program, with an explanation of what this method entails. The reference method used must also be included in every course manual, with a reference to further explanation of the method and the teacher in question should logically also apply this reference method in education when necessary. In this way, reference rules become effective, rather than an extra way of punishing students.