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50 Years of our University Council, but what is it exactly?

Date:30 August 2022
Taichi Ochi, PhD researcher and current member of the Doughnut Party.
Taichi Ochi, PhD researcher and current member of the Doughnut Party.

This Thursday, 1 September 2022, the UG is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our University Council and Executive Board in their current form. For this, the University Council and the Board of the University are organising a symposium titled ‘Governance and co-governance: 50 years a balancing act!’ (in Dutch) especially for their current and past members as well as a reunion with (former) colleagues.

In honour of this special occasion, we caught up with Taichi Ochi from the Doughnut Party. He was part of the University Council this year and we were curious what exactly this Council does, how their decisions are made and how he got involved. Want to know more? Then keep reading!

Hi Taichi! Can you briefly introduce yourself, where you're from and what field of research you are in at the UG? And can you also tell us a bit about what your role is within your party and the council?

My name is Taichi Ochi and I am a fourth year PhD student at the Department of PharmacoTherapy, -Epidemiology and -Economics in the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), under the supervision of Prof. dr. Talitha Feenstra and Prof. dr. Eelko Hak. Originally from Lima, Peru, I moved to the Netherlands in 2016 from the United Kingdom. My research looks to investigate how to personalise treatment in chronic diseases (e.g. depression) via utilising genetic testing and evaluating the cost-utility of pre-emptive genetic testing. 

For the Doughnut Party, I helped set it up (in conjunction with other scholarship PhD students) as part of the PhD Council for the FSE. As a scholarship PhD student, there were many hurdles and challenges presented since I started my project. Hearing how this issue was pervasive across the University of Groningen, I got in touch with fellow scholarship PhD students across the university and worked to set-up the Doughnut Party. 

Within the University Council, I sat in the student faction as the sole representative of the Doughnut Party. As a one-person faction, my time was limited to tackle all the issues presented at the University Council. Therefore I focused my time on areas where the experience of scholarship PhD student would be beneficial. 

How did you get involved in the University Council?

For scholarship PhD students, running for a seat in the University Council requires participation within a student faction. While there had been attempts previously by Lijst Calimero to recruit scholarship PhDs, the general feeling from scholarship PhDs was that there were differences in aims. Therefore, to run for elections, a new student faction would be needed. 

At a PhD Council meeting, we discussed whether there would be any PhD students running for the upcoming University elections. Following the conception of the idea, a few scholarship PhDs and myself put the ball in motion to set-up the Doughnut Party, with the platform of terminating the scholarship experiment. To our surprise, the Doughnut Party won a seat and I was able to represent scholarship PhD students in the University Council. 

What’s a University Council meeting like?

The University Council as a whole meets once a month, with separate committee meetings (on Education and Research, Governance, and Finance) held one week beforehand. Each committee meeting is attended by a separate member of the Board of the university. Prior to the meetings, documents pertaining to the agenda points are released to University Council members. The documents are numerous and lengthy so larger factions can have dedicated members for specific topics/committees.

At the University Council meeting, we are first notified of announcements by the board of recent activities undertaken and relevant news. The next point on the agenda is the open discussion of the strategic theme. In some cases, an external party is invited to provide an to open the discussion. All parties provide their input and thoughts on the strategic theme for consideration by the Board. Following the strategic theme, the items which consent by the University Council is discussed. Usually most of the questions have been asked in the separate committee meetings therefore items obtain consent rapidly. However, there are certain points which can be contentious which tend to be the focus of the University Council meeting. Once the items for consent are voted on, the next topic focuses on items for discussion. Here University Council members are able to provide their insight on topics and open the floor for further discussion. The last main topic on the agenda are the informative items where the University Council members are updated of informational items. As most questions regarding the informational items are discussed in the specific committee meetings, this usually winds up quite quickly. 

Discussions are heavy work so to ensure there is enough fuel to last the entire day, lunch is provided. The lunch break is where all University Council members are able to engage with each other and the Board in a more relaxed manner. It is a nice reprieve from the meeting and a good way to discuss with other members on topics. 

If you are curious to know more, one can always join in on the University Council meetings via the online live stream.

What’s something that your party has focussed on this past year and why was this topic so important?

The termination of the scholarship experiment was the main focus for the Doughnut Party. Since the inception of the scholarship experiment, there have been issues regarding the project. With the publishing of the scholarship manifesto and countless UKrant articles regarding the plight of scholarship PhD students, the main aim of the Doughnut Party was to push forward the termination of the scholarship experiment (more on that later).

In addition, we saw the issue of mental health among students, PhDs and staff growing over the years. Notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19 in daily lives, we wanted to iterate that current options available at the University of Groningen were not sufficient to tackle the increase in mental health burdens. As this was a pressing matter for all factions within the University Council, it was a good opportunity to work together with various factions on improving the capacity at the University of Groningen.

What has been your proudest achievement this year?

The Doughnut Party, working alongside the Groningen Graduate Interest Network and the Promovendi Nederland Network, helped push the issue of terminating the scholarship experiment. Following the final evaluation of the scholarship experiment, Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap) recommended the stopping of the scholarship experiment. In June, members of the Doughnut Party had the opportunity to visit Parliament and further present our case regarding the ending of the scholarship experiment. Although we were not able to have scholarship experiment terminate immediately, facilitating the termination of the experiment in 2024 is an achievement we can look back proudly on.

In the council, there are several parties with sometimes opposing views - how do you deal with this and what is the biggest challenge?

In many cases, the finer details were where there was contention between factions while the main points were aligned. Therefore bringing the discussion back to the core issue and working forward to find the middle ground helped resolve most disputes. In cases where there was no opportunity to resolve the discussion, taking a break and having only the party leaders discuss facilitated breakthroughs. 

Other than voting in the elections, how can students who aren't in the University Council get involved in the decision-making process?

I would stress for all students to participate in a study organisation, student association and/or sport club. They are a crucial part of the bachelor/master experience as they provide opportunities to meet students with similar interests and act as representatives of students. The societies act as a bridge between students and student factions as they are representatives of student bodies. Therefore they can raise issues that student factions may not be aware of and provide insight on how to tackle issues.  

Then some personal questions: what's your favourite thing about Groningen and the UG? What made you decide to come here and what's your piece of advice for new students who are joining us this year?

My favourite thing of Groningen is how close one can be outside in the countryside. Having walked the Pieterpad, I thoroughly enjoy being able to the landscape of Groningen within a stone throw away. Within the city, I love strolling through Vismarkt when the market is open. 

At the University of Groningen, I enjoy being able to work with dedicated students. They are much more switched-on than I was during my undergraduate studies! Their passion and drive is infectious and you can see that especially in the work put in the University Council meetings. In addition, the breadth of topics focusing on interdisciplinary research is exemplary. Meeting various researchers who focus on different aspects of my own topic has been an engaging experience. 

My initial supervisor worked in a laboratory next to mine during my MSc (back in the day). When presented the opportunity to conduct research with him, I took the opportunity to move to Groningen. While my current research is different to what I initially enrolled for, I have enjoyed my PhD experience so far. 

For any student coming to the University of Groningen, join a student association! It is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have during your time at university (outside of obtaining your degree naturally). If the opportunity presents itself, going abroad for a programme exchange is a worthwhile experience. There are funds available at the RUG so one should not limit oneself to being at the RUG for the entirety of one’s degree (as fun as that is).
As for any PhDs coming to the University of Groningen, make sure that you know your rights as a PhD and be conscious that it is oke to fail. You will do the latter countless times during your PhD so don’t forget to find opportunities to be engaged with other PhDs. 

Are you involved in within your Faculty Council or the University Council? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments! And if you aren't yet involved, we recommend taking Taichi's advice and joining an association or other organisation during your time at the UG.

The event mentioned is private. However, if you're interested, you can watch the symposium via livestream via this link.

About the author

Hoi hoi! My name is Avital, Israeli by nature, Dutch by nurture and always on the lookout for cute cats! My life motto is "when in doubt, dance it out"! When I'm not dancing around my room, I'm most likely learning yet another language or working on my degree.


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