Research with impact: keeping up the pressure

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    Three caribbean students at a table studying

    When citizens experience difficulties in their dealings with the government, the National Ombudsman can mediate or intervene. Alternatively, we can launch an investigation and do so approximately fifty times each year. What does an ‘investigation’ involve? We examine the process involved in producing the report ‘Concerns of Caribbean Students’.

    Investigations in 2020

    The National Ombudsman’s investigations fall into two categories: those prompted by individual complaints and those initiated by the organisation itself. In 2020, we conducted a total of 56 investigations.

    Caribbean students

    ‘Concerns of Caribbean Students’ is an example of an investigation undertaken at the National Ombudsman’s own initiative. It examines the problems experienced by young people from the Caribbean Netherlands who come to the European Netherlands to study. Through various channels, the National Ombudsman had become aware of certain difficulties that are unique to this group. The indications were numerous and serious enough to warrant further action.

    Approach

    Annemarie Tuzgöl is an experienced researcher who has led many previous National Ombudsman investigations. She was appointed project manager for this investigation. Assisted by a team of three researchers, she examined the nature of the problems encountered by Caribbean students who are studying in the Netherlands, intend to do so, or have done so in the past. She explains how one goes about such a task.

    “First of all, you must clearly define the research questions. Precisely what do you want to find out? What are the problems that students experience in practice, what are their root causes, and what are the potential solutions? The next stage was to define longer-term objectives. The overall aim of any investigation is that it should have impact and actually help to improve the situation, in this case for Caribbean students. We therefore worked to have the various issues placed on the agenda, but we also found it important to suggest improvements based on the citizen’s perspective.”

    Survey and focus group

    “We commissioned a research agency to produce a questionnaire which was distributed to Caribbean students and past students. It was completed by a total of 624 respondents. We also held a number of focus group sessions at which we could examine the issues in greater depth.”

    Many discussion partners

    Besides the students themselves, the researchers met with numerous relevant organisations, including the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), the Education Executive Agency (DUO), the Social Insurance Bank, the National Office for Identity Data (RvIG), the Health Insurance Helpline, Kences, DUWO and SSH Student Housing. Representatives of organisations which support Caribbean students were also interviewed. They include Het Arubahuis, Stichting Studiefinanciering Curaçao (SSC), TuranGoeloe, Unified St. Maarten Connection (USC), WeConnect, Vereniging Levende Talen Papiaments, HvAnti and Stichting Kompas For Students. The researchers attended a number of webinars and examined relevant policy documents, parliamentary papers and reports. The National Ombudsman invited the participation of his counterparts from Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The investigation culminated in two roundtable meetings.

    Follow-up

    The investigation’s final report, which has been translated into Papiamento and English, presents a number of tough conclusions and recommendations. How can the researchers be certain that it will not simply collect dust on a shelf?

    “We shall continue to monitor precisely what is being done further to our recommendations,” Annemarie Tuzgöl says. “We intend to organise further roundtable meetings at which the various stakeholders will discuss concrete improvements. We shall also hold meetings with the organisations responsible. If it becomes apparent that too little progress has been made, we may well launch a formal review. This is how we shall keep up the pressure and ensure that the report’s contents remain firmly on everyone’s agenda.”

    Caribbean students face issues

    Each year, some 1,600 young people from Curaçao, Aruba, Sint Maarten and the BES islands arrive in the Netherlands to begin further education. Unfortunately, many encounter unexpected obstacles and fail to achieve their ambitions. The National Ombudsman has examined the issues that these talented young people face.

    Often, things start to go wrong in the preparatory phase, before the students have even set foot in the European Netherlands. Once here, they can experience difficulty in making the various practical arrangements: accommodation and health insurance, for example, not forgetting the registration process at their chosen college or university. There is also a cultural barrier to overcome. Teaching staff and fellow students often fail to appreciate the problems experienced by this group of Dutch citizens. Having completed or discontinued their studies, Caribbean students often find themselves in substantial debt, with the prospect of paying off a student loan for many years to come.

    The National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen, has called on all governments and government agencies within the Kingdom of the Netherlands to help remove the obstacles standing in the way of Caribbean students.

    “These talented young people are extremely important to the future of the islands. It is essential that their studies in the Netherlands can form a sound foundation for a successful career, whether on their home island or here in Europe. Sometimes, a little extra support and encouragement may be needed. It is wrong to assume that these students are self-reliant enough to understand how our complex Dutch society works and to settle in without any assistance.”

    The ‘ombudsagenda’

    Themes and topics to which the National Ombudsman wishes to devote specific attention are listed in the ‘Ombudsagenda’, which is updated annually. In 2020, the National Ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children and the Ombudsman for Veterans chose to focus on five themes: Fundamental Rights, Participation and Influence, Access to Social Provisions, Poverty, and Liveability.

    The agendas for 2020 and 2021 are available online:

    Ombudsagenda 2020

    Ombudsagenda 2021