This is the week of the student council elections. That means goodbye soon to Erwin Hofman (VeSte party leader) and Ewoud Nijhof (PSF party leader). After a demanding executive year, they will hand over the reins. Sparring partners, coffee machines and knowing more than the rector.
Glad that it'll soon be over?
Ewoud: 'I'm in the mood to study again. It has been rather intensive at PSF, because we didn't really get a good handover last year due to internal problems. I knew from the start that it would be difficult, but that made the year very enjoyable and challenging too.' Erwin: 'It has been a very demanding year. It was also an interesting year because so much had taken place. Not only within the university, but also on a national level, what with cost-cutting measures and the Halbe fine. It's been extremely busy but very educative. You acquire managerial experience, and in fact, learn how to run a party. But at the same time, you're also involved in negotiations and the political arena.'
What have you achieved in this year in your capacity as student council?
Ewoud: The council feels that the attention to the accommodation problem is the most tangible result. When the year began, many parties in the city council were still pretty sceptical towards our plans for housing on the campus. For some people, it remained a dogma and something unthinkable.'
Erwin: 'We decided to spearhead finding a solution to the housing problem. There aren't really any concrete results yet, but you can feel the change in mindset. Everyone's looking in the same direction now, and this opens up many more possibilities.'
What didn't go well?
Ewoud: 'Before I became chairman of PSF, I had thought about going into politics. But now that the year is over, it has become clear to me that it's science I want to pursue more. It was great to see how such a big organization works, but things are much too slow-moving for me after all. Most of the issues are too long-drawn-out; it's often just a push here and a shove there, and results only show up after three years.'
Erwin: 'Sometimes, this also goes for coffee machines. The canteen in the Leeuwenborch didn't have a coffee vending machine in the past. As soon as we arrived last September, we tried to arrange for one. Eventually, it took us half a year to achieve this.'
Did you compete with each other?
Ewoud: 'We cooperated well with each other during the year. Both Ewoud and I aren't the dominant types, but are calm and relaxed. Besides, PSF has three council members while we have nine. That is certainly very lopsided. Were the scale more balanced, friction could have shown up more.'
Ewoud: 'It made a difference that the year had a fair share of issues which clearly put students at a disadvantage. So there was no need for a sparring partner.'
Erwin: 'VeSte of course doesn't want to give up any seats, but I clearly see the great value of a bipartite system. More parties would even be better. Sparring with one another enables the parties to reach higher levels.'
What advice would you give to your successors?
Erwin: 'At the start of the year, one is often under the influence of the university management. It's important to get out of this as soon as possible. You have to treat the management with respect always, but that should not keep you from voicing your own opinions. That is something the executive board also values, as they too want to have a discerning council.'
Ewoud: 'Of course, we do have tips and tricks on how to get along with the executive board, but that is something for the handover itself. We will then perform a sketch of the people whom the new student executives will come into contact with.'
Erwin: 'We always prepared well before meeting with the rector. We gathered as much information as possible, to be one step ahead of the rector. So it often happened that we were more informed than the rector, which was to our advantage, of course. In addition, we took pains to present good arguments and to divide these among the council members.'
Ewoud: 'In this way, we made it clear that a particular viewpoint is that of the entire council, and not of one person or one party. That worked really well.'
Why does every student need to vote this week?
Erwin: 'The student council is the only vehicle for students to be heard and represented. We have personally experienced that you can exercise a solid influence in policy matters. That you can change things.'
Ewoud: 'The student council is there when new plans are made, to say: 'Look here, there are students as well! This policy jeopardizes our rights!'
Idealism versus pragmatism
The student council parties did not disagree much in the past year, but adopted another approach in their contact with the executive board. PSF is the more idealistic of the two parties, and holds more firmly to its principles. As such, the party persistently objected to the so-called 'harde knip' in which a student is only admitted to a Master's programme after having completed the Bachelor's study. Although VeSte was also against this 'clean break', it felt that the student council could not do anything much against a government decision. The party therefore decided to go along with it for practical reasons and to try to minimize the disadvantages for students.
The size of the different parties also influenced the style of management of both chairpersons. Erwin Hofman, chairman of VeSte (with nine seats), attached more value to appointments and rules. Be punctual, report your absence on time, be present from nine to five, and put on a suit regularly. The party was formed jointly by the big student societies where it is usual to show up in suits. As for Ewoud Nijhof of the small PSF (with three seats), the reins were looser and things were more easy-going and relaxed.
Watch the Escalator Pitch of the two new party leaders Romy (PSF) and Sanne (VeSte) on YouTube. (http://bit.ly/mqOfFQ)