Two new university council factions in ten years’ time: what drives Nicolai Petkov?

Computer science professor Nicolai Petkov won a seat on the university council with Kwaliteit Voorop (Quality First). Why did he start this new party and what does he hope to achieve over the next two years?

First of all, congratulations on your election. Did you expect to get a seat with your new party?

‘Of course, I am happy I have been elected again, but it was not a surprise to me. I am the eldest member of the council, having been a member since 2011. At that time there was only one party for employees, the Personnel Faction, with whom I stayed for one two-year term.

What I noticed at that time is a lack of participation and input from scientific personnel. That is why in 2013, I decided to create the Science Faction. Also, a one-party model has its flaws, because there is little competition. My goal was to increase participation from the scientific personnel and to strive for more democracy by giving employees another option to choose from.’

This year, you decided to leave the Science Faction and start a third party. Do you feel the goals you had for the Science Faction were achieved?

‘Yes, I think so. I created the Science Faction with a specific goal in mind and I achieved this goal. Now, there were two parties, which made it more democratic. And at the following elections in 2015, the Personnel Faction also made sure that at least half their seats were filled with scientists. So I also achieved the goal of having more representation from scientists on the council.’

What are your goals for this new party?

‘Well, it’s all in the name; quality first. Of course, everyone strives for quality, but the reality is such that a number of things really need to be improved. For example, we have seen a spectacular growth in the number of students in the past ten years, but the staff-to-student ratio keeps declining. That means we have less and less time for students, which affects the quality of education we can offer.

Another point is that I think we as academics suffer under the big number of papers we have to publish. We should focus more on quality instead of quantity. I would say, do not ask an aspiring tenure-track associate to write three papers a year. Instead, ask them to present their most important two or three papers over a longer period of time. People are suffering under the pressure of having to publish too many papers, and if you are pressured, you do not have time to start new things, you just keep doing what you have been doing in the past.’

These are things academics have been talking about for years, also on a national level. What do you hope to achieve within the university council concerning these topics?

‘Well, I can only point out the problem, I cannot come up with the solutions by myself. We as university council do not have executive power, but the board of the university can tackle these kinds of issues together with the deans of faculties and other people within the university, because it is a whole system that works together.

I think the problem is well understood by many people, not just by me. What I want to do is raise awareness of the problem, and I will continue to do so in the council. It is not up to one person to decide on solutions, but we can help them identify the real problems and what to do about it.’

You are almost at the end of your university career. What happens to your seat should you retire after this academic year?

‘First of all, I hope to have a part-time position after this year. I am confident that it will work out, which means I will continue to work in the council. But if for one reason or another I will not get the position, then I think the seat will stay empty.

I do not consider this a big problem. It would only be a problem if there were a stand-off between personnel and the students, because the students would then have one vote over the staff. But my intentions are sincere; I did not set up this party to have it become an empty seat.’ 

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