November 26, 2015 Izidor Bjelopoljak

Student Services / Studentenvoorzieningen STIP (practical example from Thomas More Mechelen)

Student Services at University Colleges in Flanders to strengthen the social character of university colleges and promote equal access and participation.

Student Services at University Colleges in Flanders to strengthen the social character of university colleges and promote equal access and participation.

Objectives of the Intervention

Purpose of the student services:

  • strengthen the social character of the university colleges
  • promote equal access and participation

Student service offices pursue that objective by:

  • providing financial and social services
  • giving opportunities to every student regardless his cultural and financial background

Each student service office has activities in the following fields:

  • social service
  • facilities for students with disabilities
  • medical and psychotherapeutic service
  • housing
  • catering
  • mobility
  • cultural activities and sports
  • facilities for non-native speakers

This is a large scale initiative, both freestanding and covering smaller initiatives, in this way covering a large group of underrepresented students and/or students in need.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

This initiative has been developed, regulated and is funded by the Government. It created cooperation with higher education institutions in the region, making them apply these measures in its own systems.

The key drivers for the initiative were from the local needs and have been applied through  institutional policies. Their main idea is to ensure easier access to higher education to every student, regardless of his/hers cultural and financial background.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Students with impairments that limit their ability to participate in academic activities may be assisted in the following ways:

  • assisted living accommodation
  • guidance and financial support
  • psychosocial support
  • advice and guidance in educational matters

Special attention for economically and socially disadvantaged students and disabled students.

Students dealing with personal or psychological problems may appeal to the student services for professional help.

Non-native speakers (mother tongue not Dutch) need more support in following the courses in Dutch in higher education.

Financial support is given in forms of student loans, financial aid for student expenses (books, housing, public transport, student materials, etc.), reduced tuition fees. The system works complementary to the Belgian social security system and complementary to scholarships of the Flemish government.

Employment services are developed as well in the form of jobs for students, database, information about legislation and regulations, etc.
The area covered is Flanders, Belgium, and is coordinated by the Flemish Government.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

The initiative is being created and driven by the government, and therefore the political drive in the process is high and the support is given to the maximum. This support is definitely a very important factor, giving not just great visibility and financial support, but also ensures continuation and sustainability of the project.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Students may ask any question concerning practical, legal or financial matters and will find support in case of personal or emotional problems

  • information and counselling
  • mediation support
  • financial help
  • student employment service (Thomas More has its own database of vacancies for student)

Facilities for students with disabilities

Thomas More offers to all students with disabilities the chance to fully participate in an educational programme. The institution chooses for an inclusive approach so the student has as few exceptions as possible, but in reality it’s not always possible. That’s why Thomas More offers different facilities to those who need it. Student has to follow next steps to proceed:

  1. 4 weeks in advance, student has to fill in the application form. Each application is exanimated carefully, based on the special needs of the student. A student can discuss all the possible facilities with his mentor.
  2. Thomas More coach contracts the student if additional proofs are needed.
  3. assignment of the facilities. Based on the information and the course student is following. The facilities are assigned for 1 academic year.

Facilities for non-Dutch native speakers

A non-Dutch native speakers are those who has other mother language than Dutch. These facilities are also meant for those who are not familiar with Flemish educational system. Thomas More offers these students several facilities to equalize the chance to success with the native speakers.

As for other facilities, these students have to fill in the application form. This application form includes questions as: “How old were you when you started speaking/learning Dutch?”;”Did you already follow courses in Flemish educational system?”;”Which facilities did you enjoy before?”. After the specialists have examinated the application form, different language coaches offer the student different language supports based on their personal needs.

Student services STIP

How to find a dorm/student room?
Thomas more gives students advice how to find easily an accommodation, what are the market prices and what are the rights and duties of students renting a dorm or flat.

STIP has its own online databank of student rooms in the cities where campuses are located. Beside this, STIP gives students some search tips. For example: “Compare different rooms before making the final choice.” During the yearly info day at Thomas More institution, some student rooms in the campus area are open for the visitors.  STIP publishes yearly the average market price of student rooms per city of the campus, gives also the recommendations in the area of which campus it is cheaper to rent a flat. And last but not least, STIP gives students an overview of areas where many student rooms are available.

There are 3 options for students how to come to the campus: by public transport, by bike, by car. For public transport, STIP publishes links to the official websites of trains and buses in Flanders. The ones who want to come by bike, STIP offers yearly bikes for rent. After filling in the application form, students get the opportunity to rent a bike for a day, month, semester or full academic year. The prices for these bikes are very democratic. For a full year, student pays only 5 euros per month with 10 percent of discount. And those who come by car can take a use of the parking with the capacity of 966 cars. STIP also recommends students to make use of Thomas More carpooling system to reduce the large amount of cars.

Each campus has a restaurant where students can eat at a very democratic price.

Student jobs
STIP published 3 online databanks: Thomas More vacancies, private market and volunteer jobs.

During the academic year and summer holidays Thomas More institution offers vacancies for students. Beside this, all students can apply for a student job on the private market thanks to JOS-databank STIP cooperates with. For those who like to help others, STIP publishes links to databank of volunteer jobs.

Psychological help
STIP organizes trainings and workshops for those who are coping with psychological issues. Also individual support is possible.

Student life
Student associations
In Antwerp and other areas where Thomas More campuses are located there are many active student clubs (Absoc, Aymie, Primus Scaldiae…). The clubs which are focused on students from Thomas More can get the financial support. The activities vary from parties to interesting activities that bring students and political and business life together.

Sport with STIP
Thomas More students get the opportunity to attend sport events in and outside the institution for reduced price by using the sport sticker. Besides organising several sport events and lessons, STIP offers financial support to the students who want to organise an event. Student groups, recognized student clubs and associations, student board can apply for financial support for organisation of cultural, social activities and other activities in a framework if STIP work fields. The activity must count at least 10 participants and must be open for all Thomas More students. STIP is not supporting events as parties and music festivals.

These services are integrated in the general service of the institution and staff are prepared for those assistance needs. This project is well promoted and it is ensured that students in need are aware of the opportunities they have. The final output is expected to be increased rate of students with certain problems (including disabilities) accessing higher education. It is measured by the usage of the service and cooperation with staff dedicated to it.


Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

Taking into account that the project is funded by the government, it is well sustainable. Of course, in case the government decides to quit it, problems arise. However, within the first years of the implementation highest costs arise, and in the following years the accumulated knowledge and experience of staff members can be used without additional costs. This can be applied as well to the other parts of this programme, like housing, access for disabled people etc.

Resources used in the initiative

Funded completely by the government

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

In the first results, it is visible that the new service is well appreciated and used by students.. Clear statistical information will be known after at least 5 years of the implementation of the programme.

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