This year, for the first time VET learners were welcome to participate in Utrecht’s introduction week – the UIT Week. Introduction weeks take place before the start of every new academic year.

They are organised in practically all Dutch cities with higher education institutions, and are traditionally targeted at students in higher education only. During this week, higher education institutions, student unions and study societies organise different kinds of events and social activities, such as parties, university tours and city tours for new first-year students to get to know the city and get a taste of student life.

VET learners on an equal footing with higher education peers

This year, Utrecht is participating in a trial, allowing 200 VET learners to participate in the UIT Week as well. This breakthrough was made possible thanks to the efforts of the VET Learner Council in Utrecht, MBO-sr030. The Council was established in the summer of 2020 to ensure that VET learners are also allowed to participate in student activities like the UIT week. The reason why VET learners have not participated in introduction weeks so far is, according to a member of the VET Council, because they are completely unjustifiably seen as ‘different’: ’Student life should not be a privilege for students in higher education only. It should be perfectly normal, regardless of your education level.’

Easing transition from high school to VET or higher education

Research shows that joining the introduction week has more benefits than just having fun. For many students, the transition from high school to VET or higher education is a complex transition. An introduction week can have a strong positive influence on new students’ social and professional future. It connects students to the environment in which they will study and helps them integrate quickly academically and socially. Connectedness is an important predictor of mental health and wellbeing and could contribute to preventing dropout.

It is important that VET learners have equal access to student introduction weeks, to change society’s perception of VET learners and to offer them a full study experience. ‘Being VET learners, we don't get the same opportunities and privileges in student life as students in higher education’, says the chairman of the National Student Union JOBmbo. ‘As a result, VET learners feel disadvantaged and less valued.’ For many years, VET learners were not entitled to the same rights and benefits as students in higher education, such as allowance for public transport fees. Participating in student activities, such as introductory weeks and student sports, is an important step that can also narrow the gap between different educational programmes. The Minister for Education also argues for a revaluation of VET: ‘All students should be treated equally’, he stated.

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the status of VET learners. In addition to the participation in the UIT week, the first student society for VET learners, RSHV, was established this year. According to the chairwoman, the association is mainly meant for social activities, but should also contribute to the emancipation of VET learners in Utrecht. Her colleagues on the board, illustrate this with the fact that VET learners are often refused entry at bars and parties. This is partly justified, as several VET learners do not meet the age limit of 18. But other reasons, such as not having a student ID, are also mentioned. The RSVH mediated between their school and a pub owner to resolve the issue.

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Please cite this news item as: ReferNet Netherlands; Cedefop (2022). Netherlands: Utrecht becomes the first city to admit VET learners to the introduction week. National news on VET