How does participation in decision-making work at a university?

How have universities organised participation in decision-making?
Participation in decision-making is key to improve the quality of decisions.  All universities have arranged a form of participation that matches the university's identity. Such participation can take various shapes. For instance, while all universities have representative advisory councils, some universities may have a separate student council and works council whereas other universities have a joint council for students and staff. Universities' representative advisory councils are elected democratically and receive professional training over the course of the administrative year. Council representatives are awarded time, financial compensation and administrative support, allowing them to perform their activities to the best of their ability.    

Historically speaking, universities have always embraced a culture of critical thinking and dissent. This culture is highly valuable, as the quality of university management benefits from well-organised dissent and constructive criticism. Since the 1970s, there have been many experiments in the various shapes of participation in decision-making with a view to achieving democratic, professional and effective governance, ranging from co-management in accordance with the University Administration (Reform) Act (Wet universitaire bestuurshervorming) in 1970 to participation in decision-making pursuant to the University Government (Modernisation) Act (Wet modernisering universitaire bestuursorganisatie) in 1997. Partly as a result of the latter Act, we now have the professional representative advisory bodies of today.
Right of consent on budget outlines
Following the introduction of student loans, representative advisory bodies have had the right of consent on budget outlines. The reason is that students should have greater influence on public spending of education funds if they are required to make greater investments in their studies.
Budget outlines refer to:

  1. Changes in the internal allocation model for government funding;
  2. Outlines of the financial capacity for strategic policy priorities (or the suspension, reduction or termination of priorities) with regard to education, research and operational management;
  3. Outlines of the financial capacity for real estate investment.
  4. In consultation with the representative advisory councils, universities flesh out at the local level the specific content of the budget outlines and the time at which participation in decision-making is organised.   


Programme Committees
The involvement of staff and students in the curriculum of degree programmes is vital. After all, every management board within the university needs a support base. Councils and committees have been established at all levels of the universities, with potential representatives from every branch. Actual improvements to the curriculum are made in the proximity of the primary process, which is the domain of the Programme Committees. 

The Enhanced Governance Powers (Educational Institutions) Act (Wet versterking bestuurskracht onderwijsinstellingen) entered into force on 1 January 2017. 

Among the important changes in this Act is the Programme Committees' right of consent on a number of aspects related to programme design. Improving their quality culture and bolstering their Programme Committees are key concerns to universities. With this regard, it is important to position Programme Committees optimally within the full range of representative advisory bodies. Universities should avoid putting Programme Committees in a position where conflicts with the role of faculty councils may arise. They must also prevent control from moving to the bowels of the organisation as a result of allocating participation powers there, which would result in fragmentation and ungovernability.

Participation monitor
VSNU, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogescholen), the Dutch National Students Association (ISO), the Dutch National Student Union (LSVb), VMH, LOVUM, SOM and LOF cooperate in publishing the participation monitor. The latest participation monitor is available here (Dutch only). This monitor aims to map the current quality of representative advisory bodies and bolster the quality of participation in decision-making to the extent possible. 

The 2020 participation monitor follows up on previous editions in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Due to new rights and responsibilities, the position of participation in decision-making at research universities and universities of applied sciences was solidified in recent years. Resulting effects on daily practice include increased time commitment among students and lecturers active in representative advisory councils as well as improved facilitation of their activities by research universities or universities of applied sciences; for example, through offering training or support. At the same time, the new role of representative advisory bodies creates a growing demand for training and a need for additional consultation with their member base. 
National service desk for participation in decision-making
In the 2018 Sector Agreement, VSNU, Vereniging Hogescholen, LSVb, ISO and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science have decided on establishing a national service desk to support and facilitate representative advisory bodies in performing their duties. This provision also sheds further light on the Quality Agreements that have been concluded. Representative advisory bodies may pose specific questions to a pool of experts using the service desk
E-learning module on Participation in Decision-making, Safety and Security
Platform IV-HO (Integrale Veiligheid Hoger Onderwijs) launched the E-learning module on Participation in Decision-making, Safety and Security on 13 June 2019. This online training course intends to increase professionalism among members of representative advisory bodies with regard to implementing as well as contemplating safety and security.