Anyone who thinks ‘student council’ means a group of businesslike students of the collar-and-tie type should think again.
A visit to the offices of the two parties is enough to make their positions clear. The walls at the PSF office speak mainly of campaigning. Campaigning for independent journalism in Resource, campaigning against Shell Oil, campaigning against Apartheid. And visitors here are offered a hot cup of herb tea. At VeSte, on the Lawicksallee, the main theme is an active student life, accompanied of course by plenty of coffee, beer and drinks parties. VeSte chairperson Anne Reijbroek makes a point of keeping in touch with her voters – students who do a lot of extra-curricular activities – by attending plenty of parties given by study associations and student societies.
In spite of the differences between the two parties, they always manage to arrive at a joint standpoint. They meet the executive council about once a month for a formal consultation, and for some decisions rector Martin Kropff needs the approval of the student council: if they don’t agree, it doesn’t go ahead. For example, the student council brought in a lawyer when the university just stopped funding the canteens without consulting the students in advance. In a case like that, they think, you shouldn’t hesitate to take such steps.
Being a member of the student council is a full-time job. You get a year off for it and the university pays a small sum towards your expenses. ‘You are seriously involved in big issues such as plans for a new building. And at the same time, there are lots of light-hearted activities such as debates or graduation parties. That combination is what makes it so nice to be on the student council’, says Anne.
PSF chairperson Harriët Tienstra likes to be active. ‘Studying is mainly sitting still and listening. Here you can’t be passive. You’ve got to get to work, pick up the phone and create opportunities for yourself. And the nice thing is, you meet a lot of people from different cultures. That’s what makes the student council interesting for me.’
The student council is indeed very international. The language of communication is English, and there are members from China, Russia, Colombia and Costa Rica. Internationalization is an important subject for the council, and there is a special committee for it. Li Fucheng, a second year MSc student of Food Quality Management from China, thinks there’s a lot of room for improvement in this area. ‘Wageningen has a very good name abroad. But when you arrive here as an international student, it’s a bit of a disappointment. There is very little information in English. And if it does exist, it’s not clear where you can find it. I don’t really think Wageningen is an international university.’