Students will soon be able to collect national badges for volunteer work and participation in the university council. Photo: DUB

A badge for your volunteer work in the Netherlands

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Students will soon be eligible for a certificate if they have done volunteer work alongside their studies, announced the Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, earlier this week in Parliament.

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A higher education degree is great, but what else did you do? Lots of students do some kind of volunteer work during their studies, so it would be good if they received some sort of recognition for this, said the minister. 

The Ministry is talking to students, university administrators and IT organisation SURF about the possibilities. One of the ideas is that Dutch universities would start working with Edubadges, a digital certificate.

Internships
LKvK, a national umbrella organisation of student associations, is the one who proposed the idea. The association apoke with MP Dennis Wiersma (VVD), who then submitted a motion inquiring the ministry of education about the possibilities. “You get credits for an internship, but if you participate in the university council fo a year, you don’t get anything, even though you might have learned just as much in the process”, explains vice-chair Emile Stekelenburg.

Students can simply list their ancillary work on their CV, of course, but when venturing onto the international job market, one may wonder whether this will make much of an impression. “It might not mean much to employers”, Stekelenburg suggests. A proper certificate would then be much more useful.

The Dutch Student Union is equally happy with the proposal. “I think it’s a good idea”, chair Lyle Muns says. “It helps if you get some kind of recognition for your extracurricular activities. Employers are already saying: 'nice that you have a diploma, but what extracurricular activities have you done?” 

However, wouldn't this lead to a rat race? Wouldn't students overwhelm themselves to collect as many certificates as they could to improve their chances on the job market? “Recognition is good, but you have to be careful so that it doesn’t overshadow the main goal: passing your courses”, notes Dahran Çoban, chair of the Dutch National Student Association, who finds that a diploma must retain its current value without extra badges.

She isn’t a supporter of strict national guidelines for such badges. For example, she herself has participated in rowing competitions and coached a team. “How do you recognise that with a badge?” But she isn’t totally against the proposal. “I spent a year in the council at Leiden University and I received a diploma supplement for it. That’s something tangible for the job market. You could compare it to that.”

Volunteer for a day
The idea is that there will be a national version of these certificates, so that employers have some kind of standard. Stekelenburg of the LKvV: “Then we'd be able to see the difference between someone who was a fulltime council member for a whole year and someone who might have volunteered somewhere for a day.”

The Ministry wants to finalise the plan in the summer, Minister Van Engelshoven informed Parliament. Some universities, such as Maastricht, have already put the proposal into practice. Students at this university can now obtain up to five badges, in order to prevent students from collecting badges “like crazy”.

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