Iris confidently opens the door to a conference room on the sixth floor of the D Building at the Roeterseiland Campus. It is one of the conference rooms used by the Executive Board, which also has a workroom on this same floor. Iris has been the central student assessor for the UvA since January 2019. In this role, she attends all weekly Executive Board meetings and offers advice, particularly in relation to education and other issues affecting students.
Isn't it rather intimidating to attend a board meeting as a student?
I remember how, at one of my first meetings, I accidentally sat in someone else's regular seat. That got me a few strange looks, ha!
Still, I think I was actually less nervous in the beginning. In the beginning, you're new and it's normal to ask a great many questions. But over the course of the year, it gets a bit more difficult because you can no longer hang back and feign ignorance – you have to find the right moment to share your input.
Did you manage all right in the end?
I think so, but it remains a kind of balancing act. You want to contribute constructively, but it's also important not to adjust yourself too much. This can sometimes prevent you from saying certain things you feel are important, but at that moment don't seem to fit in such a meeting.
What exactly is your role during these board meetings?
I'm expected to consider all the topics being discussed from a student's perspective. It's a bit like that theory that says policy will be better when you involve your stakeholders at an early stage of the process. What's more, as a relative outsider, I can shake up the routine or ask questions that board members might not have thought of right away. Really, I'm there to continually remind the Board who they're doing it all for.
Isn't that the role of the Central Student Council as well?
The student council is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of all UvA students. They have an actual formal right to be consulted and right of consent with regard to UvA policy. My role is different and more informal in nature. It's not my responsibility to democratically poll opinions within the university community and report back to the Executive Board. That’s the task of the representative bodies. I share my student perspective with the Board.
Who decides what your input will be?
Well, I suppose I do, ha! All joking aside, I just try to identify priorities as fairly as possible based on what I see and hear, and my own opinions. And of course it also depends in part on what's on the agenda for a given meeting.
The Board views the student assessor as a reasonable and well-informed student who is able to sympathise with the perspectives of many other types of students and, at the same time, understands how the organisation works.
Describe a week in the life of a student assessor.
On Mondays, I mostly read a lot of documents in preparation for the Board meeting the next day. Sometimes I discuss what I've read with the policy officers in the Maagdenhuis for a bit. Tuesday is always a long day: that's the day I meet with the Board, after which I always try to take some time for reflection as well. And then after that, I also have an evening lecture.
On Wednesdays, I attend the meeting of the Central Student Council (CSR) and on Thursdays I alternate between the University Committee on Education (UCO) and the Central Executive Council (CBO) in which the Executive Board consults with all the deans. During the rest of the week, I have appointments with all kinds of student organisations and staff and I prepare for meetings. Really, most of my week is spent sitting in meetings and drinking loads of coffee!
Is that enjoyable, all the meetings and coffee?
That naturally depends on the matter that's being discussed. And more importantly: whether the points I make are being taken into consideration! It's particularly enjoyable when you see that you've contributed to improvements in policy. Sometimes, however, the Executive Board meetings are largely about ticking off a list. UCO meetings are often really interesting, because they address real issues. That's where policy proposals that affect education – and therefore the student experience – are discussed, such as the Binding Study Advice (BSA).
So do you feel you can exert any actual influence?
Absolutely! You can suggest adjustments where necessary. And new ideas are always welcome. But at the same time, you're only one small link in a big organisation where there is so much happening already. It's often about looking for a smart way to broach the subject or connect to an existing initiative.
And you have to trust that everyone working at the UvA is already intrinsically interested in the student perspective. In fact, sometimes I'm looking to make a point and Karen, Geert or Jan will beat me to it. And then I think: great, that's as it should be!
What advice would you give your successor?
Keep asking questions! And like I already said, don't adjust too much– you were chosen because of who you are. Other than that, it's important to schedule time for reflection. You'll be hearing and reading so much information that, if you're not careful, you'll start to lose track.
It's up to you to connect the dots between the various themes you encounter. You have an opportunity to serve as a valuable bridge between the students and the Board. It's rewarding work and will hopefully contribute to a university where people feel at home and learn from one another.
Check out the vacancy for the new student assessor!