Maastricht University (UM) is working on an excellence policy. One of the goals is to develop a common core shared by all honours programmes and an excellence community for honours students university wide. To write a concrete proposal, a working group of students from different faculties was set up. The students Elin Börjedal, Ulrike Thurheimer and Frederick Thielen were involved in the procedure.
“Actually, the idea of creating our own community is entirely student driven,” says Thielen. “We had a meeting with a national association of honours students and, although participating in that association sounded interesting, we decided we wanted to establish our own community.”
The working group departed entirely from the existing ideas of the national association. As Thurheimer explains, “We had a brainstorming session to gather thoughts on elements that current honours students felt were lacking and components that would improve the faculty honours programmes. In a later feedback session, students could comment on our proposal.”
The working group designed a programme that binds faculties together and offers training in skills not offered in the faculty honours courses. Thurheimer: “We focused on personal development and skills training through workshops and social activities. We decided to build a community through networking and interfaculty exchange, and we wanted to broaden the horizons of honours students by organising academic activities and lecture series.” “The lecture series are entirely do-it-yourself,” Thielen adds. “Honours students organise them for one another. They make an inventory of topics that are of broad interest to the audience and invite speakers from all faculties, and occasionally from other universities and organisations. The result is a very diverse programme, specifically for the UM honours community.”
The common core also incorporates personal development workshops, with themes such as time management, networking skills, presentation skills and poster design.
“Another important element is the appointment of faculty student representatives, who keep the community going by organising events and acting as a link between the faculties,” says Börjedal. “Something that could still be improved is the fact that honours students are allowed to take courses at other faculties, but it’s not easy to find out which courses are suitable and how to register for them. The registration systems vary between faculties. Having someone there who can answer your questions and guide you through the system would be helpful.”
Another good idea is having an official opening ceremony for honours students, and handing out the honours certificates at a special closing ceremony. “To date the certificates have been handed out at the regular graduation ceremony, without further ado,” explains Börjedal. “Now there’ll be a specific ceremony where all honours students present their projects to an audience and receive their honours certificates.” Thielen continues: “We see a great future for excellence at UM, especially now that we’ll have a common room at Tapijn. There we can all come together and exchange thoughts. The rest will follow naturally.” All three agree on the importance of excellence at UM.
Honours programmes allow students to study in depth and specialise in a subject that interests them. Thurheimer: “You share knowledge with people who want to excel just like you – that’s how you expand your knowledge.”