For the first time in years, three parties are taking part in the student council elections. So you would think Wageningen’s students have some choice. But do they really? Resource put five propositions to the top candidate of each of the parties.
The university is already doing more than enough regarding sustainability.
Cathy Wageningen University is all about sustainability. It’s in the mission statement. As far as I’m concerned, it’s vital that the student council includes a party that focuses on this issue. Last year a few Independent Members have been keen advocates but their voice was not strong enough.
Jordi Do you think the other parties don’t consider sustainability to be important?
Cathy I think that the other parties consider sustainability one important topic among many, but it has no priority. A ‘green party’ would advise the Executive Board more actively to change its sustainability policy. The university is making a difference by setting up a sustainability panel and achieving 100 percent sustainable purchasing in 2011. I think there are even more campaigns they can support on the policy level. The Fossil Free Campaign is a really great initiative. But they get only vague answers from the university, not fundamental support.
Soline The way I see it, the problem is predominantly that students don’t know exactly what the university is doing about sustainability. As it happens, the university is really doing a great deal, because it’s part of its mission. Waste is separated, there are lots of courses on sustainable developments. Some 30 percent of Wageningen’s energy supply comes from a wind farm in Flevoland. The university could do a better job of publicizing that.
Jordi The danger is that at some point instead of a lot of hard work actually being done to achieve sustainability, it becomes a symbolic gesture. Where sustainability is involved, the university is a global pioneer, but I’d like to see them being more cautious about promoting sustainability, because you also have to deliver.
In recent years VeSte has been much too accommodating towards the Executive Board.
Soline If you compare VeSte with student councils in other cities, VeSte has good relations with the Executive Board. They really listen to us and accept our advice. Apparently that’s pretty unusual.
Jordi I think that VeSte has done its job well. They haven’t been too nice; to reach a resolution you have to compromise. But I do think that having several parties ensures a more balanced view of certain topics. We could all be more critical.
Soline VeSte always tries to reach an agreement, but we certainly don’t say ‘Yes, fi ne, go ahead’ to everything. We really stand up for students, like we did with the BSA (binding study agreement). The student council had some heated discussion with the Executive Board to ensure that students wouldn’t be hit too hard. Our aim is to achieve a workable compromise.
Cathy The most important thing about a student council is that it forms a bridge between students and the Executive Board. It’s good for VeSte if more parties are on the council. It is better for VeSte’s image if it gets more challenging opposition.
Jordi I’m not scared of confronting the Executive Board head on during the coming year. Sometimes, you need to be prepared to play hardball.
What has the student council achieved over the past year?
- BINDING STUDY ADVICE (BSA) The Student Staff Council (SSC), which members of the student council are on as well, registered strong objections to a BSA. On the insistence of the SSC, a monitoring group is going to be set up to be closely involved in policy on the BSA. The university will also give the SSG the right to advise on policy changes. The SSC still has to agree to the deal.
- MINOR POLICY The student council refused to ratify changes to the minor policy. The university was bent on restricting the scope for a free minor. According to the student council, the range of minors currently on off er does not meet the needs of students. The Education Institute is now going to study the policy.
- AVAILABLE PC APP The student council was involved in the development of an app for your telephone on which you can see in which buildings and rooms there are computers free. This app has already been downloaded more than 2000 times.
- SILENT ROOMS Thanks to the student council, the number of rooms in which you can study in peace during revision and exam weeks has been expanded considerably.
- NEW PAYING SYSTEM AT CHINESE At the Chinese caterer in the Forum you can only pay with coins obtained from the checkout.
- AUTOMATIC LOGOUT SYSTEM So that students do not hang on to computers they are not using.
- A GLASS BIN AT THE FORUM
A Christian party doesn’t belong on a student council.
Jordi They may or may not be members of an association, but there are a lot of Christian students in Wageningen. And there are a lot of Christian international students. It is good to be united within a group sitting on the student council. We do have a different take on what’s going on within the university. Our Christian values un derpin our actions: responsibility, honesty, transparency.
Soline So how is that manifested on the student council? Those values are also important to VeSte.
Jordi We could have joined VeSte; I think that we’ll often share the same viewpoints because we both think the quality of education is very important. But then we’d all have been together in one party, wouldn’t we? It’s a good thing if voters have a choice. And our focus will certainly be different from theirs. For example, we’d like to see more fl exibility in how students are treated when they have objections to certain practicals or excursions due to their religious principles. Not that they should be allowed to skip these elements, but they should fi nd a sympathetic ear.
Cathy It is good to look at the various subjects from different perspectives, such as an international or Christian one. In my experience, Christian people are very nice and it seems like a good move to have a breath of fresh air on the student council. I understand that their voice was not always heard.
Soline On the one hand I think it’s good that a Christian party is joining the student council. If these students have the feeling that their voice isn’t being heard by VeSte, it’s good for them to have their own group on the student council. On the other hand, I wonder whether religion should play a role in education policy. We are here to do science and that doesn’t sit well with the Christian faith.
Jordi We aren’t trying to make the education offered here more Christian, but I do think that we better understand religious students. The discussion is made easier by the fact that we are better able to give them a voice.
The student council should do something about the problems with international group work.
Soline Group work and practicals are very important because you can’t learn everything from books. Besides, later on students at Wageningen often end up in an international environment and then it’s a bonus to have already gained experience of working with other cultures. But sometimes problems do arise. Group work doesn’t suit everyone, certainly if a wide range of nationalities is involved. International students sometimes lack confi dence in their English and Dutch students can be incredibly direct. That frustrates progress.
Jordi I often hear Dutch students complaining about group work. Dutch students are much more familiar with group work than international students, so perhaps it’s a good idea to give international students some training, so they are better prepared.
Soline It’s not only the fault of international students. Sometimes it’s the Dutch students who aren’t prepared for the cultural differences. So I think it would be a good idea if the university paid more attention to intercultural communication.
Cathy There’s also a job here for the student council. We can exert infl uence on policy and on education programmes. What’s more, we are in close contact with students, so we have a pretty good impression of prevailing opinions and what could be improved.
A student council should concern itself with education policy. Everything else (accommodation, traffic safety) is a matter for student lobby clubs.
Soline When there was still a student union, the student council concerned itself mainly with education. I think the council members really liked it when they needed to deal with issues of student life and not only with policy. In fact, it’s an area in which they’ve achieved a great deal, like the traffi c situation at Bornsesteeg.
Jordi Education policy is an issue that gets handled much more in the background and it often involves long-term work. If you change something in the area of student facilities, students see it immediately and that increases the popularity of the student council.
Cathy The student council is there to represent student interests and students are interested in more than just education programmes. They also see problems with accommodation or facilities and bring them to the student council. We have the power to make some kind of change and can do that much more quickly than a lobby group.
Soline If all kinds of little lobby groups were to start busying themselves with different subjects, the big picture would be lost. The student council has good relations with the university, the municipality and Idealis and that makes it better placed than any lobby group to tackle these subjects. This good contact is also likely to be lost when there’s a smaller group of student representatives. As a student councillor, it seems to me that’s it’s more fun to get involved in all sorts of different topics. Just policy, policy, policy, wouldn’t that be well, not boring, but certainly monotonous?
Photo: Guy Ackermans