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“Students were not to form an exclusive group”

“Students were not to form an exclusive group”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Student and city survey

MAASTRICHT. How has the relationship between students and city changed over the past forty years? Which subjects dominated the debate? Dirk van de Leemput, alumnus from Arts and Social Sciences, delved into a stack of more than thirty years of issues of Observant and Maffius (Observant’s predecessor) in order to find out.

Dirk van de Leemput reacts immediately to an e-mail from the faculty in the spring of 2011, in which students were asked to do research into the history of the relationship between students and Maastricht. “I was a second-year student, had no idea how to tackle such a survey. I only learned the skills that I needed during the actual project.” Little has been written about the subject. “An article in a book from 2001, that was about it.” Quite quickly Van de Leemput and his supervisor Pieter Caljé decided that it should be an exploratory study: what did people think about students and the city over the last decade?

When the university – at that time only a medical faculty – officially came to Maastricht in 1976, opinions were divided. “People were enthusiastic, but also worried about the inconvenience, especially in the city centre.” The students don’t really know how they see themselves either, just like the university. “It was a few years after the Maagdenhuis occupation in Amsterdam, there were a lot of developments in the field of education. Student unions emerged, studying became much less elitist.”

This is reflected in Maastricht. “Under the pretext of equality, people felt that the students should not form an exclusive group within society. The facilities for students also had to be for working youths – as the group was referred to at the time. Student housing was absolutely out of the question, instead there were rooms for young singles. There was tremendous discussion about the arrival of the student cafeteria.” People also felt that the boundaries between employees and students had to be abolished. “There was no Student Services, like there is now, but a staff and student service.”

Despite everything, student associations were founded or students joined the existing Circumflex, whose members until then had been mostly Art Academy students. “After that there was Koko, which arose from a committee at the university. Strong reactions followed. People felt it was strange that only students could become members. When Tragos – a more fraternity-like association – was founded Observant wrote about ‘tragic’ students. The general opinion was rather negative.”

This all changed half-way through the eighties. “The initial idealistic attitude is abandoned. There are considerable cuts in education and the UM has to prove its value in the city. The university presents itself in a different way. New studies are set up, including Economics and Law, which attract a different kind of student.” Because of this, student life becomes more traditional. “Tragos becomes more popular and Circumflex changes into a more traditional association. Everything, both the university and the students, professionalise.”

Another change took place around 1992. “The UM is becoming more and more international. That brings with it completely different issues. Instead of accommodation for four years, now rooms have to be found for six weeks. German and Belgian students arrive in their cars and park all over the city, to the irritation of local residents. Also, should foreign students learn Dutch?”  Where inhabitants of the city were initially worried about the noise from clubs, they were now mainly upset with ‘wandering’ students making their way to and from the entertainment centre. The associations have to deal with students who know nothing about the phenomenon of fraternities/sororities or who have a bad image of them.

These subjects determine the debate about students and city even to this day. “By now people have gotten used to students, but the international student is still relatively new.” Van de Leemput, who now works as archivist for the Socio-Historical Centre in Maastricht, has described the developments but draws no conclusion. “I embarked upon the survey with an open mind, not with the intention of answering a particular question. It was purely a fact-finding mission, it would be useful to do a more detailed follow-up study.” This could focus on the question whether the integration of students was successful. “A tough one, because everyone has a different idea of what being integrated means.” Would he like to do that survey himself? “Maybe. I really like doing research. I love discovering new things, exploring and sharing that with others.”

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