When Yvonne Kanters was appointed as the new Dean of the Avans School of International Studies (ASIS), the school had just gone through a turbulent period. That was 6 months ago. How is ASIS doing now?
Kanters previously lived in Haarlem and worked at Hogeschool Utrecht (HU). “In Utrecht, I was responsible for 2 HU schools for 4 years. Then I was approached by a recruitment agency acting on behalf of Avans. It was for the position of Dean at ASIS: a challenging role. The content of the role appealed to me and I had been thinking of moving back to Breda for some time.. This offer came at a very convenient time.”
How do you like Breda?
“It took me a while to get used to it again. I was often homesick for Haarlem. But I’m very happy here now. I can cycle to Avans in the morning and then cycle on to the gym after work. And I was welcomed with open arms at ASIS. I can really put my qualities to good use here.”
You knew that ASIS was in turmoil at the time. Didn’t you find it difficult to start your role in this way?
“Actually, that was what appealed to me about the role. I like to build things. If everything had been laid out for me, then I wouldn’t be here now.”
Everything was certainly not laid out and made easy. ASIS employees were critical, to put it mildly. For instance, they felt that they were not involved enough in the decision-making process. What are you doing differently?
“I’m not going to comment on the past, as I wasn’t here then. But I do think that decisions shouldn’t come as a surprise. We are in the process of developing education further, so yes, we need to make decisions. At the same time, it is very important that everyone joins in with the decision-making process.”
How do you involve an entire team in such a process?
“2 weeks ago we started what we call curriculum days. These are 8 Monday sessions in which we focus on the further development of ASIS. Everyone is involved in this, from operations, to educationalists and of course lecturers. We check in together and end the day together. On these Mondays, we make decisions about education in the future, but I also inform everyone about what’s on my agenda for that week and what decisions need to be made. These sessions are also good for teambuilding. We always start the day with a song.”
“Yes, that creates a good atmosphere. Each time, a different colleague chooses the song he or she considers appropriate to the process. I kicked off with ‘Making your mind up’ by Bucks Fizz. We are making decisions and in this respect the song is very appropriate for our task.”
Do you think lecturers are on the same wavelength now, more so than they were 6 months ago?
“I can’t comment on the period before I arrived, but things are going better now than when I arrived. If you’re continuing to develop educational matters, you also need to be able to sit back and discuss what you are doing and, above all, why. The Monday sessions are a good example of this. That’s when we really come together to work together. It’s hard work, but as long as everyone knows the goal they are working towards, then that’s not a problem.”
What is the goal?
“For Avans to have a greater role in international education; for ASIS to eventually become the international hub of Avans, with good bachelor’s programmes and perhaps in the long run a progression to master’s programmes.”
So ASIS will have a much more prominent role than it does now?
“I hope so. It would be great to see even more students from abroad come here. ASIS is the only international school at Avans, but there are other schools offering full degree international bachelor programmes. In the long term, we hope to join forces with the other programmes in an ‘Interntional hub’ . We are currently researching this. ASIS also wants to further develop cooperation with the municipality of Breda. When Avans recruits internationally, we are also promoting Breda. And the municipality, for its part, considers it important to invest in the city’s international climate.”
Many British students are disappointed by the lack of internationalisation at Avans. Why do you think that is? “I can understand their point of view. One of the reasons for this is that too much of the communication takes place in Dutch. When I see that a prize is being awarded to students and ask if the information is also available in English, it turns out that it isn’t. We offer international education, which means that services must also be available in English. An international student shouldn’t receive e-mails in Dutch.”
International students also indicated in Punt that they don’t have a sense of community because in their experience there isn’t a community at all. How important is that to you? “An international community is very important. Promoting a sense of community is also a positive goal for ASIS to pursue. Foreign students who come to the Netherlands for their studies have an enormous need to be part of a community. And this is also a responsibility of Avans. If we recruit abroad, then we need to make international students feel at home quickly.”
A word about last month’s Committee of Appeal for Examinations case (COBEX, College van Beroep voor de Examens). What went wrong?
“This external lecturer, with excellent qualifications, started working with assessment criteria that had been changed in the meantime. If you can consider this a mistake, this was the result of poor communication that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.”