News - March 24, 2011

Student executive positions: Any takers?


The fine for students who take more than the standard number of years to graduate makes them hesitate in taking up executive positions in student societies. But not every society is affected, as a survey by Resource amidst the vibrant society life in Wageningen shows.

Crocuses stick their heads out, spring is in the air. The hunting season begins.
That is, the hunt for the active student. If a society wants its office bearers to know the ins and outs after the summer, it has to start looking now. Being late could mean scraping the bottom of the barrel, because available talent is being spread thinner than ever before due to the impending fine for students who take too long to graduate. 
This conclusion can be drawn from listening to Integrand, an internship placement group. Integrand in Wageningen began its campaign to recruit new office bearers for this year already last December with a cheery Sinta Klaas event, but without much success. 'Currently, only four of the six management positions are filled', says executive member Emma van der Veen. She feels the impact of the cabinet plans very clearly. 'People we approach to take up an executive position tell us they have already made their study plans. Or they don't want to get involved in management as long as it's not certain what the government will do.'

Vibrant student life
Wageningen has about ten social activity clubs, a little less than twenty study associations and more than twenty sports associations. Added to these are student council parties Veste and PSF, the Idealis tenants association, the introduction day management team, idealist groups such as Otherwise, RUW and 'the farmers', career-oriented associations Integrand and Aiesec, and music clubs WSKOV and De Ontzetting. All these organizations make student life in Wageningen colourful and enjoyable. It would be difficult to imagine student life without the soil-drilling championships organized by Pyrus, the concerts in the aula organized by WSKOV,  the athletics meets of Tartl├ętos, and the Don't-tell-mum festivals of Unitas, just to name a few.
Recognizing the value of these groups, the university supports society activities financially with the so-called FOS-scholarships, a monetary compensation for students involved in time-consuming executive functions. These scholarships would be able to cover the student fund and the public transport travel pass, but not the extra tuition fee of three thousand euros which long-term students would have to pay from next year onwards. Being in an executive position would then have to cost the student money.

'Less difficulty'
A glance at the FOS list gives an idea of the society life in Wageningen: sport and study associations are in the majority. However, the really big ones are the social activity clubs: SSR, KSV, Ceres and Unitas have a total of 562 FOS-months at their disposal, this being about a third of the total (1742).
It is noteworthy that these social clubs are the ones which have less difficulty in finding office bearers. 'For us, finding new senators isn't more difficult than in other years', says Emke van Wijlen of student society Ceres. 'The interest to run for a seat on the senate hasn't been affected by the Halbe fine, as far as we can see.'
Sports federation Thymos also does not have difficulty in putting together a management team for the coming academic year. Executive member Carly Janssen noticed that it has become even easier in the last few years to find office bearers. The sports federation organizes an information evening every year for those interested. Besides using posters and flyers in its recruitment drive, Thymos also invites proactive people whom it knows or thinks are interested to these evenings. 'Everyone who has indicated to us in these two years that they are keen on an executive function is invited.'
Arboricultura in Velp has even more candidates this year than the year before. Its executive team has just begun its term of office. Although the society has indicated that students are more apprehensive of study delay now than in the past, the impact from this is still marginal, says its president, Simone Arends. 'The society life hasn't changed much.'

Fizzle out
Not everyone can say the same.
Student enterprise association SIFE reports that it has become extraordinarily difficult to find office bearers now. 'We don't even know if we can put together a complete management team, or if we have to make do with less people', says executive member Marijke Spanjer. Like Integrand, the emphasis at SIFE is on career building. An executive function with these clubs is good for one's cv.
This brings up an interesting trend. The dwindling group of candidates for executive functions appears to prefer being in a society in which they like to be in, than one in which they are in mainly to build a career. No matter how useful Integrand and SIFE might be, students are going for fun rather than experience. Bad news for Halbe and gang, who want students to be incorporated into the Dutch work force as soon as possible. But it's good news for those who think that a lively student culture outside the regular education programme does contribute to individual development and social diversity. For the time being, it seems that Wageningen hardly needs to fear that the hustle and bustle of student life is going to fizzle out.
'How to recruit a student'
You've been in office for a year, and you're in search of a successor. The executive board needs capable members. Time is running out left, right and centre, while candidates are being snatched away from right under your nose. What now?1. Approach people personally. Poster campaigns can be good for publicity, but not good enough to win people over to your side. Go for a drink with someone who has what it takes and give him or her your undivided attention. But...
2. Be careful. If the student knows that any Tom, Dick or Harry is being asked, he would feel much less honoured by your personal approach.
3. Be selective. Think further than just filling a management vacancy. The team members have to get along well with one another and have certain competencies. An executive board which does not function well can ruin the society.
4. Be honest about the workload which comes with an executive function. Nice words may win over someone, but if the going gets tough, he or she could be here today but gone tomorrow.
5. Image counts. Make students want to identify with your club. Emphasize that it's the in thing and the place to be to meet certain people, and the wonderful privileges that come with a term of office. Get this image right and the perfect executive will be at your doorstep.
'How to become a student executive'
Your studies are on schedule, or your parents are so loaded that you can afford to enrich yourself with managerial and life experiences. Have you dated before? This is about the same.
1. Let yourself be led on. Let others know that you are available to do something besides studying. Executives would be circling round, waiting for a chance to pounce and offer you a beer. Too much of that and you could be signing the wrong contract, so don't be too greedy.
2. Find out what you want. Are you in search of social contact? Do you want to do something for your fellow students, the nature, world peace or reduce poverty? Do you want to gain experience in organizing? Or drink, party and develop your social network until you are chock-full for the future? The emphasis is different for every management team.
3. Let yourself be heard. Once you have found an executive position which fits the bill, don't delay in letting the society know that you want it (you may exaggerate).
4. Don't be an easy prey: The current executives want to make some effort to get you. If you throw yourself at their feet, they might doubt your abilities. It's alright to play a little hard to get.
Seal the deal. If you have been approached for a position, be quick to respond in the right way. Congratulations, you've carried off the prize!
Text: Simone Herrewijn, Tom Rijntjes, Karin Flapper