Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg - ISO


Joris van Schie

On January 26, 1974, the Dutch National Students Association (ISO) was established in Amsterdam as a national umbrella organization for five university councils from various cities in the Netherlands. The full name of ISO in Dutch is Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg, literally translated to "Intercity Student Consultation”. These students felt the need to discuss certain issues with fellow student council members from other cities and to exchange information and experiences. In this way, they could strengthen their own position at their respective institutions of higher education. Soon, the ISO expanded and represented students from all over the Netherlands. In 1995, the ISO changed its name from Interuniversity Student Consultation to Intercity Student Consultation. Since then, the ISO has also represented students from universities of applied sciences at the national level. 


The first years

 In its early years, the ISO was no more than a suitcase with some documents. The board met no more than once a month and the notes were typed out by the secretary with a typewriter on carbon paper. Scholarships for student leaders from the Ministry did not exist in the 1970s. The meetings usually took place in the Academic Building in Utrecht, because of its central location, and, more importantly, because it was free. There was no chairman, because the ISO had no formal structure and because of an overall lack of money, no treasurer was needed.

 The end of the 1980s was a remarkable time for the ISO. Due to immense budget cuts in higher education, there were many student protests. The ISO had never been so busy. It was time to take everything a bit more seriously. It was time to pay a visit to the notary and officially found the ISO association. 

 The period of professionalization continued, and in the early 1990s, a new step was taken. The ISO’s organisation became more established and the ISO appeared in the media more often. By setting up all sorts of committees, the work became increasingly intensive; 40 or 50-hour working weeks were no exception for the board. For the first time, ISO now had a number of full-time board members. But the knowledge of these people was mainly in their head, there was not enough continuity and knowledge transition. This changed with the first ISO office at the Oudegracht in Utrecht, a professional office where the board could work on a daily basis.


Name change

 In the year '95 -'96, the Interuniversity Student Consultation underwent a change that permanently changed its character and objectives. Interuniversity Student Consultation became Intercity Student Consultation. This is because the ISO aimed to represent students from universities of applied sciences as well. As a result, the ISO became a more representative organisation, but in practice it was challenging to actually have direct cooperation with student leaders from these institutions. Based on personal networks and on an incidental basis, the ISO was able to represent a number of universities of applied sciences. Many colleges of higher education were approached in a short time, mostly through their student councils, and after a period of time the ISO became a full student representative organisation for all parties involved in the field of higher education.



The Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO) is now the largest national student organization in the Netherlands and represents the general interests of nearly 730,000 students at research universities and universities of applied sciences through its 35 local member organisations. The ISO is a regular discussion partner of, among others, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, political parties and the umbrella organizations of higher education institutions. The organization of ISO consists of an executive board and fourteen employees. The board has five members and changes annually at the beginning of the summer, while employees are usually active for two years. 


ISO as a member organization of ESU

There are various reasons why the ISO is an active member of the ESU, but first and foremost because it allows the ISO to represent the interests of Dutch students at a European level. The ESU represents all its member organizations in Brussels and ISO is able to provide official input four times a year at the Board Meetings and the European Students’ Conventions. In addition, it must be highlighted that it is a good thing that the ESU also supports the European student population as a whole. Another positive aspect is the fact that it allows the ISO to share knowledge and ideas with other student organizations and to come into contact with different perspectives. Furthermore, best practices from the Netherlands can often be very valuable for other countries.

Decision-making at the European level has an increasing impact on higher education in the Netherlands. For example, in the new multi-year plans of the European Union, large amounts of money are made available for higher education. The ISO therefore wants to strengthen its connections and lobbying in Europe, among other things by collaborating with the ESU. Within the EU, however, education is not a "regulation of directive", i.e. when it comes to education, the EU only makes recommendations and there are no European laws that are directly applicable. It does, however, have various subsidy programs running that influence education. In addition, the number of policy initiatives is increasing, and in many countries, they are also implemented to a certain degree, with the Erasmus programme being the best example of this. The ESU has a lot of influence on this process. In addition, the ESU is strengthening its position in the Bologna Follow Up Group (BFUG).


The international network of student organizations is also very important. Although the higher education systems differ per country, there are many similar developments in the various European countries. A network with regular exchanges of ideas and best practices is, thus, of added value. For example, the ISO visits one member of the ESU per year as part of its annual study trip. In addition, it is always possible to Skype with other member organizations and discuss certain topics.

Joris van Schie
International Officer
Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg - ISO

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