by Elena Butti
Do midterms stress you out? Are you fed up with continuous evaluation? No worries: here’s your chance to evaluate UCU instead.
UCU goes through an accreditation process every five years. The Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Commission (NVAO) is an independent body of experts, financed by the Dutch Government. In 2007 it wrote a report about our College and is coming back no later than September 2012 to re-evaluate UCU. Students will also have a say.
What has changed in these five years? What did the commission conclude in 2007 and has UCU improved since then? Despite a remarkably good overall report, three main criticisms were addressed: lack of structure, ‘bubbleness’ and not being international enough (!). Let’s discuss these issues one by one.
Lack of structure
“UCU started as a small community where things happened very organically and unsystematically,” says ASC Academic Affairs Officer Omri Preiss. “It’s something that has allowed it to grow so well. But now it’s time for a more systematic and structured way of organising our institution.”
College Council Chairman Dr. Francesco Maiolo confirms that this was perceived as a need even before the report. “Every institution has a ‘revolutionary,’ energetic moment in the initial phase of its existence, but this cannot last forever. After a while, the initial push turns into routine and inertia. This is when it becomes indispensable to have a plan, to ask ourselves: what do we want to be as an institution? Where do we see ourselves in 10, 20, 30 years? What role do we want to play in Europe and in the world?”
“UCU is becoming more experienced and professional every year,” says ASC Chair Liesbeth Dingemans,. “Some new projects are being developed like the writing of a self-evaluation report every semester with the input of teachers, students and the administration.”
Preiss adds: “Tutors now meet every week for updates and training, and a big survey to rate UCU will be submitted to all students soon.”
Here is where you come in: what grade shall we give to UCU’s structure? I give it a B. Everybody knows it’s necessary, but an actual change has yet to come.
Ever felt a sense of ‘claustrophobia’ in the bubble? You’re not the only one. The 2007 accreditation report expressly states that UCU should strive to increase “community service” and “social responsibility” among students. In other words: people, break the bubble.
“The bubble is a good place to start,” says Preiss, “and it is part of the core idea of UCU. You meet a lot of different people and discover yourself vis-à-vis them, plus you create a strong and useful network for your future career. But it’s important that people don’t lose contact with reality.”
Director of Education Fried Keesen stresses that the Administration is trying to be an example in this respect by setting up ‘outwards-oriented’ projects like the Ethiopia one.
Also Committees like ComCo, HumCo and Cultural Cookery also play a role here. “We can now show that the environment around us benefits from the very presence of UCU,” says Keesen.
But is it enough? I’ve decided to grade UCU’s level of interaction with the real world with a C. My judgment was confirmed when I asked a friend: “What was the last time you went to the city centre?”
“You mean the centre of the Quad?” he answered.
The 2007 report stated that, as internationalisation is a key element of UCU’s educational philosophy, this parameter had not yet been met to a sufficient extent.
Are we an international college or a Dutch college with a lot of international people? Tricky question. It’s true that an overabundance of ‘krokets’ in DH and a recurrence of explanations in Dutch during class “to make the concept more clear” propel me towards the second option.
However, my attitude changes when I bump into a German-Spanish friend and a Scandinavian-Portuguese friend of mine trying to practice their Chinese while eating some Italian pasta al pesto. Oh, and there was some weird Russian music in the background.
So really, when it comes to be international, UCU deserves an A. An overabundance of Dutch croquettes can be forgiven.
Is UCU prepared to face the commission once again? The answer is up to you – when they arrive, the independent experts will also want to hear your voice.
True, UCU might be a small, messy and disorganised bunch of people that look nothing but cute when trying to compete with Harvard or Yale. But it helps that the lack of bureaucracy allowed me to simply email the highest heads of the administration and have a chat with them with a cup of tea.
True, it could well be that we live in a fake world out of touch with reality. But it’s so nice to feel safe and at home in this “gezellig” little bubble.
UCU –so imperfect, but so nice.