Gerben Hiemstra: Social impact award 2018

Gerben Hiemstra

Gerben Hiemstra is doing a Research Master in Multidisciplinary Economics and a Law bachelor. He managed to climb up from lower vocational education (VET education, in Dutch mbo) to university level, enabling him to properly assess the differences between various levels in education. He noticed quickly that there was a lack of student organizations in secondary vocational education. Together with the ‘Nationale Denktank’ he is busy setting up student organisations for these students. At the yearly New Year’s event for all Utrecht University employees, Gerben won the Social Impact Award with 1000 euros of investment money.

How did you come up with the idea for student associations?

Because of my background, I not only noticed the lack of student organizations for VET students, but also the unequal treatment between vocational and higher education. Discounts on health insurances, Spotify and fitness subscriptions: they only count for students in higher education. Even during introductory weeks in student cities, VET students are excluded from entrance at nightclubs. I also noticed big differences in budget between vocational and higher education. Being the chairman of a student committee, I’ve found out first hand that at university there’s much more budget for organizing conferences and other educational events. Secondary vocational schools mainly focus on finding your future job, but should focus more on developing other qualities and discovering other interests.

That connected feeling, or that ‘campus feeling’ as I call it, needs to be felt by all students.

How are you going to improve this?

That connected feeling, or that ‘campus feeling’ as I call it, needs to be felt by all students. The many specializations at VET schools make it difficult to set up study related organizations. A first pilot in Groningen has started: all VET-school students in Groningen are allowed to register. A small group of motivated students organize readings, music events and get-togethers. I mainly have a coordinating role on the moment: I often travel to Groningen to attend a meeting. This year, I expect that more cities will follow with their own VET-student associations.

What are you going to do with the prize money?

With the investment money, I want to start more student organisations in different cities. Next to that, more awareness is needed. The strong segregation between students that is happening right now needs to be stopped: all students are entitled to equal treatment and opportunities. The establishment of student associations for VET-students is an important step in the right direction.