Science - March 15, 2007

‘We are working on it!’

Do you ever dream about a longer weekend by making Friday a free day at the university here? Or what about introducing evening lectures so you don’t have to get up so early in the morning? It might be difficult to get majority backing from the Student Council for these suggestions, but if you fancy having a bit more influence on university policy you could stand for election to the body that gives students a say in the running of the university.

Wageningen is the only Dutch university with international members on the Student Council: five out of the eleven members come from outside the Netherlands. The council consists of three parties. The Christen Studenten Fractie (CSF) has a Christian background, focusing this year on quality of education, student facilities, internationalisation and ethics. The Progressieve Studenten Fraktie (PSF) gives priority to sustainability, social responsibility, integrity and academic development. Verenigde Studenten (VeSte) was formed when three student associations merged and focuses on guiding active students, student recruitment, teacher competencies and being pragmatic.
PSF is probably the most well-known party, as they publish the Toilet Paper each study period, informing students on the latest developments in the party and the Student Council. ‘We pin the paper up in the toilets in all the bigger student buildings,’ Mattijs Smits, the Dutch chairman of PSF explains. ‘This is a good way of reaching different students and keeping them informed,’ Ineke Kleemans, the only (Dutch) PSF girl, adds.
Perhaps this work doesn’t appeal, but maybe you’re interested in sitting on the council from September onwards? All parties are currently looking for new candidates for the elections that will be held from 21 to 31 May.
‘Working in the Student Council is real fun: I like the atmosphere and you meet the people who are running this university,’ says Sylvia Erimsita, who is from Indonesia and a VeSte representative. Florence Slotboom, the only Dutch member of VeSte, agrees: ‘I also wanted to improve my personal skills.’ Anda Istudor is from Romania, and also represents VeSte: ‘The university meetings are mainly during the day and we spend a lot of time discussing with students in the evenings, as it’s important to get feedback from them.’
The CSF is the smallest party in the Student Council, with just one member, Pieter Heringa. It is challenging, trying to convince the other members of your opinion. ‘Usually I go along with the other parties, but of course you always try to keep your own point of view,’ Pieter says. Mattijs nods: ‘We agree on many topics, but of course not on everything.’
After more than six months in office, the current members have some experience. ‘I became even more aware of the cultural differences between the Dutch and Asians when it comes negotiations and discussions. They are much more direct than we are,’ Sylvia says.
‘In the beginning everyone wanted to get new things started quickly, as we only have one year,’ Anda explains. ‘After a while, you realise that it’s not that easy to get changes through. Other representatives have different viewpoints and you start to understand better why the university is not going to change something.’ Mattijs adds: ‘Sometimes the members cannot reach agreement on certain topics. But if it remains an issue, you have to show that it is important for students. Sometimes we have to fight for attention and also show the students that we are working hard for them.’
Ineke: ‘Before I became a member of the Student Council I was always annoyed by people who told me ‘we are working on it’, but nowadays I find myself saying the same thing.’ You might find yourself saying the same thing if you campaign for free Fridays when you stand for election. / Henrik Schmale