Separate parties for students and teachers are outdated

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Student Stephan Verhulst, current council member on behalf of UUinAction, thinks that the fact that most parties choose to represent only students or staff during the University Council elections is an outdated principle. United in a single party, they would be better equipped to tackle themes like work pressure, as well as being stronger in relation to the Executive Board.

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Separate parties for students and teachers are outdated. A contrast of interests is created that does not exist and that is why UUinActie is a party for both students and teachers. The problems surrounding work pressure best illustrate this need.

In recent years, the workload has increased considerably for all employees. Teachers have less and less time to prepare lectures and grade exams. We know that the main reasons for this situation are external: the number of students is growing, while the government has been decreasing its funding at the same time. However, until now, the Executive Board has reacted to this by basically offering temporary contracts without research time and without prospects for a permanent appointment, therefore increasing the burden of teaching staff: ever more assignments must be graded in less and less time, class sizes have been increased, and so on. This affects students as well as their quality of education, which is at stake.

Cumbersome administrative processes
More and more tasks (such as information activities, open days, matching days, advice on foreign exchanges, not to mention management tasks) are no longer compensated by structural hours. Both lecturers and administrative staff must deal with cumbersome administrative processes, an extreme example being the ‘visitation’, a huge machine for which we have to produce metres of paper and complicated reports to justify our work - on top of our regular duties and without any compensation, of course. That often makes employees feel as though they are not trusted as professionals, as they have to constantly justify themselves.

It is not possible to deliver the quality of teaching UU aims for in the time that is allocated for teaching duties under the current models. Many of us choose to work more hours than we are paid, and we sacrifice leave and research time in order to maintain high standards of teaching. In some faculties, the teaching load has become so heavy that researchers only get around to their research tasks in their spare time. This is another illustration of how students are at risk of falling victim to the lack of time of their teachers. For example: the teacher who used to be able to speak enthusiastically about his or her field of research, is often much less able to do so nowadays.
The fact that our academic year is extremely long compared to other countries makes this situation even worse, yet we are expected to compete internationally with colleagues who often have much more time for both teaching and research.

Teachers don't talk about it
Students often do not really notice how teachers suffer from this enormous workload. After all, teachers don't like to talk about it either. Yet, it does affect students: for example, the ever increasing time to grade exams. Or the fact that we're offered more and more massive education. More massive, because some of the teaching staff had a burnout or because there are simply not enough teachers for the higher number of students. What this ultimately means for students is less (personal) attention and less in-depth education.

Regardless of the shaky quality of education, more and more students are standing up for their teachers: last September, dozens of them decided to express support for their teachers by drawing 10,000 squares throughout the city. Each square symbolized one hour of overtime by our academic staff per day. Students increasingly realise that they often receive good education but that's at the expense of teachers' personal life. Wonderful moral support.

Students seem to be aware of it, but are the participatory bodies aware of it as well? Is it finally becoming clear to the representatives that we must join forces, instead of maintaining a non-existent contradiction? Not working together is risky as the problem of work pressure is complicated and requires a joint approach.

First, we have to work together on the national front: the national Science Alarm Day (Alarmdag) will be held on April 6. On this day, all universities will be organizing protests to indicate that 1.1 billion euros must be urgently invested in higher education. Money is needed for extra staff: we only spend 2.2 percent of our GDP on education and innovation, while 3 percent has been agreed at European level. It goes without saying that all forces must be joined to make these investments happen.

Secondly, the university front: our university is currently based on mistrust in students and teachers. Think of proctoring and strict attendance requirements for students and course evaluations (with possible employment law consequences) for teachers. If we also want to make a fist here, we must do it together.

All in all, we need more money and we need to build a system of trust. From cutbacks and hierarchy to investments and democracy. That is in the interest of all of us, both students and teachers.

This article was produced with the assistance of Katell Laveant and Jochen Hung.

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