Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day Four: U Ghent

I felt like an elementary schooler as we were led to the tram with Matt bringing up the rear so as not to lose anyone.  As the University of Ghent is an urban campus, it was difficult to know what was the school and what was not.  When we arrived, we were led into a much more welcoming space than Utrecht.  The building was well lit and there were several art displays.  The room our session was held in was top notch as well.  When we walked in, I felt like I was at a meeting room in the United Nations!  The refreshments were top notch as well, and the cold sodas were a most welcome site!  Our hostess was extremely warm and gracious, and her work in policy advisement sounds really interesting.  Turns out we had presentations from five different presenters on various topics.

The University has had tremendous growth in enrollment over the past fifteen years, with a particular spike in doctoral students.  The history of the institution's language evolution is fascinating, and the fact that the language used is law demonstrates what a significant issue this is.  I found the influence of the Germans around the time of WWII especially interesting.

As the presenters began to talk, so many of the challenges discussed mirrored problems in American higher education.  I laughed out loud when they referenced a strategic plan that no one used, but was elaborately crafted.  Another funny moment was when the statement was made that they have a lot of meetings because they have a lot of ideas.

The cost of attendance is 600 Euros for most students, but only 80 Euros for students from developing countries.  Students enter with a "backpack" of credits that cannot be replenished if students do not succeed, but can be added to with success.  It almost reminds me of a video game, the better you do the more tools you are awarded to do even better.  However, the school is committed to access and any student who completes a college prepatory program in high school is guaranteed admission.  Direct admission to a master's program once the bachelor's is complete is also policy.

A theme of pre-entrance counseling is starting to emerge.  Both schools we have visited so far put a vast amount of effort into guiding entering students into the right program of study prior to enrollment.  Additionally, prior to enrollment the schools try to insure students know what it will mean to study at university.  I found this especially interesting because the model in America different.  Students are, for the most part, allowed to chart their own course when it comes to the programs they wish to pursue.  And we begin the process of making sure they know what they are getting into one week before classes begin.  This fact really struck me of all the things we learned on our trip.

Just when we thought out minds could not absorb any more information, their finance guy presented.  Mind blown!!!  Every aspect of funding is formulaic from the government down to hiring in the departments.  The system used for hiring is based on points with every department allocated a certain amount that the department can decide what to do with.  The method of calculating these points is incredibly complex including determining whether or not the candidate has children!  At first it seemed that those with children were paid more, but as I asked more questions and found it is more of a tax break.

Lastly, a very passionate presenter talked to us about access and the social responsibility of higher education.  He had a lot to say and his zeal for creating access for and identifying marginalized populations (not necessarily races) was obvious.

Just when we thought our time at UGhent was over, it was time to have dinner in the student dining hall.  The choices were plated on a table as you went in.  I chose the Salmon, which was really very good.  The strangest thing was the portion size.  At our dining hall they are really big on food waste and I have to ask for more than two chicken strips, and here there was enough for at least two people.  No worries though, we were soon to walk it off as we climbed the 532 steps to the historic and iconic book tower.  We were all confident at the outset, but half way up we were wondering what on Earth we were thinking!!!  At the end of the climb the view and the history of the top floor was well worth the climb.  The room was the Nazi headquarters during the occupation so they could have a the best view of their surroundings! 

We trammed back to the hotel and then the majority of us headed to St. Bazo's cathedral to see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb as featured in the movie Monuments Men.  It was exquistie and so was the cathedral.  We then met up for a canal tour.  The boat was much small than those in Amsterdam, but we squeezed in and enjoyed ourselves as we so often do! 

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