MAASTRICHT. With no fewer than 41 candidates for ten seats on the University Council, students in Maastricht are really spoilt for choice in these university elections (from 25 -28 May). This is quite different at most other universities. At the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, for example, there are just enough candidates to fill the seats and so there will be no elections. Why are people in Maastricht so enthusiastic? Observant visited the candidates.
Firstly, there are the relatively new parties, who are participating with more candidates this year. Alastair Hannaford, number 1 on the list of United Students Maastricht, was one of the co-founders of the new party last year. “We felt that the two large parties, Dope and Novum, were dominated by Dutch students. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but we missed a party for and by international students. I hope that by standing as candidates we will create more interest in the elections, the turnout needs to really improve (30 per cent last year, ed.).”
USM is participating with more candidates as well as in more councils this year. “Last year, we had a small, targeted campaign, but that doesn’t work. You need to be broadly represented. I get the impression, by the way, that other parties are focusing more on the University Council this year, which may explain the large number of candidates.”
The KAN Party, the political branch of the Climate Action Network, also provided a list of candidates this year. “It wasn’t difficult to find new people,” says Ezekiel Stevens, who is heading the list of candidates. “Our members are already active for KAN. They are working towards creating a more sustainable world, so it is a logical step to help the UM achieve that as a council member.” He feels that all student representatives should show their involvement throughout the year. “And not just those couple of weeks before the elections.”
Laurens Bierens, at the top of Dope’s list for the University Council, welcomes the new parties. “This year was the first time we worked with four parties together in the University Council and that went really well. It is early days to say anything yet, the trend would have to continue on for a couple of years.”
Bierens himself will be a candidate for the third time. He is not the only familiar face; five other University Council members are eligible for election again this time, three others are at the bottom of the list. “This year was an unusual one. First the fuss about the dean appointment procedure, then we had the cyberattack and now COVID-19. Because of that, we have had hardly any regular meetings and we haven’t been able to put forward our own points. It feels unfinished.” He feels that experience is an advantage. “It takes a while before you know how everything works.”
"Experience is important, most of our candidates already know the student representation and that helps," agrees Yasmin Hashish of Shape, which has a collaborative list with Ouranus. The eventful year was also a reason for her to be up for election again. "But I also think it inspired new candidates. There's a lot to be opinionated about, which makes you want to have a say."
Novum has six candidates for the University Council and sixteen for the faculty councils, but would have liked to have had more. “Some people pulled back because of the COVID-19 outbreak,” says chairperson Sangavi Sivananthan. “They need to focus on their own problems for now.” Nevertheless, she is happy with those who are participating. “A really diverse international list.” One of the reasons? Novum has asked organisations with which they have worked together more often if they were interested in university politics. Many of the reactions came from Nour, an organisation for Muslim students.
“We have enthusiastic members, who are very active anyway,” says Abdelhakim Aknouz, Nour’s chairperson and number two on Novum’s list. “For me it was the little push that I needed. Last year, I was on the Programme Committee and Law faculty council.”
According to Aknouz, Novum is a good fit with Nour. “We both stand for diversity and inclusivity. There is room for improvement for the latter at the UM. You see a division between faculties and between nationalities.” Also between religions? “I know that some of our members want to represent the Muslims with points such as a prayer area in the city centre and more halal options in the university restaurant. But we are not one-issue candidates. We all also have a strong opinion about the improvement of education.”