Science - February 26, 2009

ACTIVE WITH THEIR FEET UP

Anyone who thinks ‘student council’ means a group of businesslike students of the collar-and-tie type should think again.

The promotion committee of the student council meets at the PSF office in the Niemeijerstraat.
True enough, the Progressive Student Party (PSF) is houses in a villa overlooking the chic Emmapark, but inside it’s a typical student office, complete with piles of paper, wine bottles and toilet cleaner lying around. Four members are holding a meeting with their well-worn sneakers on the table. It all looks very relaxed – almost a bit offhand in fact. And yet the subject under discussion – how to make the work of the student council better known – is very important. Because all twelve members will be resigning at the end of this academic year. Nothing special about that, it happens every year. But it does mean that before then, a fresh team of twelve new students needs to be at the ready. And that’s why elections are planned for the week of 25 May to 1 June. The elections can only go ahead if more than twelve students stand for election, and these candidates have to be found now. Interested students can contact one of the two parties on the council (VeSte or PSF) by 17 April.

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.’

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