Student - 23 februari 2012

Finger on the pulse

Pulse held its launch party last week. According to Romy Appelman, the interim chairperson, there was a big positive response. But how should the new student union/student council party win the hearts and minds of all Wageningen students? Resource asked successful student unions elsewhere in the Netherlands for advice.

The Nijmegen students' union AKKU, often the driving force behind national protests, and Delft's VSSD, the oldest and largest local student union in the Netherlands, have five tips for their Wageningen colleagues.

TIP 1: Visibility
Dewi Plass, AKKU secretary: 'Great that the Wageningen union has been resurrected. I think the merger between WSO and PSF is a good move; pooling resources is always smart, it enables you to establish a stronger profile. It is important for a student union to be visible. If you have broader support, that makes it more appealing for students to be part of your organization for a year. After all, it does mean a break in their studies. That is a big issue for AKKU at the moment. We have about fifty active members, which is a fair number, but we are seeing a decline. Students are changing their priorities because of the government's measures. That is quite a problem.'

TIP 2: Strict segregation
Mariska Heidema, VSSD chairperson: 'We are very happy to see 'our little sister' back again. I would advise Pulse to make it very clear that the union and the council party are two different branches, each with their own approach. You don't want the one to be held to account for the actions of the other. Another potential problem is that the party in the council gets all kinds of information in its meetings with the University Board. The union is not supposed to know any of this so if documents are leaked, you can guess who gets suspected. That is why VSSD is very satisfied with the arrangement in Delft. We helped set up the two current student council parties but they now operate entirely independently. That means we are free to do what we want as a student union.'
Dewi: ‘AKKU's student participation body has its own name, Akkuraatd. It has regular discussions with the university board. The council body shares AKKU's philosophy but it is a separate group. They don't automatically take on board everything we say. In fact, the council members are often not from the union.'

TIP 3: Smart working groups
Dewi: ‘AKKU's committee has four to six committee members, each responsible for one or more working groups, such as sustainability and teaching. We notice we get a lot of people for the participation, accommodation and legal aid working groups. That is because they directly affect students. Take accommodation; there is still a systematic shortage of student accommodation. Our rental teams offer help such as a price check and a room measuring service.'
Mariska: 'VSSD has subcommittees for activities and working groups for our standpoints. It is important for the working groups in particular to be staffed by committed students who know what they are talking about. Pulse should invite ask former union and teaching programme committee members to join. They are familiar with the University's history and have a lot of know-how. That can be very useful!'

TIP 4: Short lines of communication
Dewi: 'Everyone is very busy but sometimes you need to come up quickly with a proper response to a specific development. That makes it awkward for someone in the union if a council member is in a meeting all morning. So I would advise Pulse to have weekly meetings with the council party and make proper arrangements for internal communication. Poor contacts within your organization can be a real pitfall.'

TIP 5: Choose your battles
Mariska: 'Having a small hard-core group of active members does not have to be a problem. Pulse should decide for itself what it wants to focus on and what it wants to achieve. A new club like that should not bite off more than it can chew. If VeSte is already doing a good job on certain issues, Pulse can afford to ignore those topics.'

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