Science - February 5, 2004

Ukrainian students learn about having more say

Ten students from the Ukraine are spending a week in Wageningen as guests of the student union WSO. They are here to learn about how Dutch students have a say in the running of university affairs. Wb spoke to Sophia Skrypnyk.

Sophia is a second-year student at the national university in Kiev, where she is studying Dutch and English language and literature. “I can’t explain why I chose Dutch, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that my first English teacher was Dutch.” She describes how pleased she was that Dutch students sought contact with students in the Ukraine. “We are in need of contact with the West. The Ukraine has been independent from the former Soviet Union for twelve years now, and we can learn from the experiences of western countries, especially their democratic traditions, but it takes time.”

Last year Sophia was elected head of the student parliament of the language institute. “We are faced with similar problems as the WSO here. For instance, it’s difficult to find volunteers, especially as we have to continue our studies. Many students also have to work to support themselves. It’s good that the university here gives financial support to the students with official positions, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to skip a year of studies, like the WSO student representatives do here,” she says.

The Ukrainians made use of a two-week holiday at the end of their first semester to come to Wageningen. The first days were spent learning about motivation and making use of opportunities. One of the things Sophia will be taking home is the system of questionnaires used here to evaluate courses and teachers. “We once held an informal survey, but by making it more formal we might be able to have more influence on course content.”

Not all aspects of Dutch university life are more positive than the Ukrainian situation. For example, the structure of Wageningen university requires that students make a definite choice of study already in their first year. “Our first year is more general, which I think is better,” comments Sophia.

Even though the visit is not yet over, she has already found it inspiring. “We’ve got a lot of information and learned new approaches. I don’t yet know what will work back home, because we don’t have the democratic tradition that you have here. But I feel that if you want to achieve something you have to fight to get it. I hope now to be able to contribute to making the student movement in my institute more democratic, and maybe also make some changes to my educational programme.”

Yvonne de Hilster

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