Gerben Hiemstra is doing a two-year Research Master at Utrecht School of Economics and is in his last bachelor year of Law at the University of Utrecht. He managed to climb up from lower vocational education (in Dutch vmbo) to university level, enabling him to properly assess the differences between various levels in education. He noticed quickly that there was a lack of student organizations in secondary vocational education. Together with the ‘Nationale Denktank’ he’s busy setting up student organizations for these students. At the yearly New Year’s event for all Utrecht University employees, Gerben won the Social Impact Prize with 1000 euros of investment money. Read here about Gerbens’ story:

Discriminatory practices
Because of his background, Gerben not only noticed the lack of student organizations for VET students, but also the unequal treatment between vocational and higher education. Discounts on health insurances, Spotify and fitness subscriptions: they only count for students in higher education. Even during introductory weeks in student cities, VET students are excluded from entrance at nightclubs. Gerben also noticed big differences in budget between vocational and higher education. Being the chairman of a student committee, he found out first hand that at university there’s much more budget for organizing conferences and other educational events. According to Gerben, secondary vocational schools mainly focus on finding your future job. They should focus more on developing other qualities and discovering other interests.

Missing the ‘campus feeling’
That connected feeling, or as Gerben appointed – that ‘campus feeling’ – needs to be felt by all students. The many specializations at VET schools make it difficult to set up study related organizations. A first pilot in Groningen has started: all VET-school students in Groningen are allowed to register. A small group of motivated students organize readings, music events and get-togethers. Gerben mainly has a coordinating role on the moment: he often travels to Groningen to attend a meeting. This year, he expects that more cities will follow with their own VET-student associations.

Social Impact Prize
With his 1000 euro of investment money, Gerben wants to start more student organizations in different cities. Next to that, more awareness is needed. Gerben wants to end the strong segregation between students that is happening right now: all students are entitled to equal treatment and opportunities. The establishment of student associations for VET-students is an important step in the right direction.

Read here more about ‘Samen Sterk’ from the Nationale Denktank.