Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Observant Lower House debate on students and the city
Cars with German registration plates taking up parking places for days on end? Garbage bags put by the roadside days before they are collected, drunkenness, bicycles parked everywhere except in the appointed racks? The familiar themes are not the discussion points during the Lower House debate on students and the city that Observant organised in a well-filled Kumulus theatre last Monday. It was more about baseball bats that now remain in lockers, pop musicians and students who are never allowed to have a party in Maastricht’s living room – the Vrijthof – the lack of Dutch language courses, the municipality’s archaic student policy, but also the tremendous progress that has been made in the past thirty years when it comes to the relationship between students and the city.
“I am ashamed to say I am from Maastricht.” Wim Smeets, director of ‘pop podium the Muziekgieterij,’ makes no bones about it in the first half of the debate. “When you ask youngsters in Tilburg what they are proud of in their city, they immediately name pop podium 013. In Maastricht there is only silence. There is just very little to do here and no proper infrastructure. Most of the student associations are based outside the city centre. The municipality would rather put them all underground, like Tragos in Fort Willem I. We are also on the outskirts (former L1 building near Tongerseweg, ed.). In Groningen, pop bands play on the Grote Markt, something that is not likely to happen soon on the Vrijthof.”
“Why do you want to be on the Vrijthof? You are fine where you are, aren’t you?” asks Wim Ortjens from Regiobranding Zuid-Limburg.
Smeets: “It is just like in the old days. When I gave a party, I always had to do so in the garage, it was never allowed in the living room.”
Old student memorandum
Smeets reckons that students don’t get enough attention. And he is not the only one who feels that way this evening. Léon Lodewick from choral society Mastreechter Staar also says that the city is not inviting enough. “If a lot is happening, the chances that students would integrate would increase,” reckons Giel Dijk, boss of the equestrian event Jumping Indoor.
When the Preuvenemint, the annual food and drink event on the Vrijthof, is brought up, the organisation is covered in criticism. Ortjens calls it a “monoculture”, a party for “old men of my age” with “spermicidal music”.
“I have no idea what the Preuvenemint is,” adds Heiner Salomon, German and former chairman of student party Novum, underlining the point.
It says a lot that the city's last student memorandum dates from May 2000 and has spent the last twelve years gathering dust in some official's desk drawer. Discussion leader Marcel Schrijnemaekers approaches the alderman for education Mieke Damsma (D66). What about that? The bottlenecks that were identified in those days – sports policy, social climate in the city, jobs for graduates, students must not be seen as guests but as inhabitants, website, information provided in Dutch and English – still exist. Damsma: “We should not be making policies, we need to take action.”
André Postema, vice president of the Executive Board, would also like action to be taken, but feels it is important that all the things that need to be done should be listed first. “The UM has grown enormously in the past ten years, internationalisation has increased. I am very positive, but the agenda with points that we want to improve is a long one and includes a sports policy and pop platforms. But also a button for foreign students on the city’s website, so that they can see in English what Maastricht has to offer.” After the break, Joshua de Kroes, former chairman of Tragos and former university council member on behalf of Dope, is clearly irritated. “The city council leaves a memorandum lying untouched for eleven years? If we are identifying problems, surely something must be done about them?” Heiner Salomon refers to the disappearance of the Maastricht Student Council, the consultative body for the city and students. “There is no forum for consultation. In all the years that I have been with Novum, the city council has never talked with us.”
The Maastricht civil servants get a thrashing, but should the students get off scot-free? Isn't it true that Koko, Tragos, Saurus, and Circumflex secretly think it is fine to retreat to their clubhouses, with their own members? Even mayor Onno Hoes sees it happening: “Before they know what is happening, first-year students are encapsulated by some organisation. Of course it is good that associations are there for students, but then I have to make sure that they then come in contact with the city and the many traditions that Maastricht has.”
Kevin Hol, chairman of student party Dope, would rather speak of anchoring. “Becoming a member of a fraternity prevents you from becoming isolated.” He also sees the advantages: associations are “accessible discussion partners” representing considerable communities; they form the “pipeline” to the city. David Hageman and Tibor Nussy, chairmen of Tragos and Circumflex respectively, support Hol's view. To close the ranks unanimously, Casper Oude Essink from rowing association Saurus says just how much sports function as a binding factor, as a meeting place for foreign and Dutch students. Wammes Bos, the second discussion leader, wants to know how this contributes to the bond between students and the people of Maastricht. Oude Essink does not have a definite answer.
According to Birgitte Hendrickx from UM Sports, there are many forms of co-operation between sports associations for students and for regular citizens. “In the eighties when I came to study here, that was quite different. Now there would not be any rugby in the city if it were not for the students; the rowers at Saurus work very well together with the city club, and the same goes for football. I am proud of that.”
“Students have the same rights and obligations as everybody else in Maastricht,” claims Henk van de Voort, chairman of Friends of the Maastricht City Centre, (Vrienden Binnenstad Maastricht). They do not have a different status. “They are not allowed to make a racket either.”
A racket, a word that has been heard surprisingly little during the debate. When residents of the city complain about anything, it is the noise created by students. It is no wonder that the neighbours living around the Professor Pieter Willemstraat, at the back of Central Station, did not jump for joy when they learned that 83 student rooms were to be built in the former Stercollege. Maurice Evers, head of the Kamerburo and the Guesthouse: “We informed the neighbourhood very well, even before the permit applications had been submitted to the city council. After discussions we even decided to create a playground on the premises.” The former school will house exchange students, just like the Teikyo building on the Brouwersweg. In both cases, Maastricht University has chosen to house all the students together; according to Evers this reduces disturbance.
Mayor Hoes recently proposed in Dagblad De Limburger to limit to the number of student houses in any one area. But Evers thinks that a quota, like in Groningen – where there cannot be more than 15 per cent student houses in any one street – is not a good idea. “It has not been proven that there are more problems when a larger number of students live in the same street.” Van de Voort argues that the city council should take action with regard to the Orléansplein, where according to him “the limit has been reached”.
“I live there,” says Smeets from the Muziekgieterij. “Well, if students are shouting under my window early in the morning, I just turn over.” Smeets then thinks about all the money that the city has earned that night from those youths.
"Die vaan us"
Action, joining forces. Plenty of ideas and initiatives to bond students with the city are discussed this evening. Some are enchanting, but have quietly passed away, such as the voluntary market by Tafelstraat 13 and the Maastricht Student Council. Some are wonderful dreams, such as the Timmerfabriek as a centre for student culture. Some projects are still in their infancy, like ‘Students and Fellow-Citizens’ (Studenten en Stadsgenoten) to improve co-operation. After the debate, Antoine van Lune from the Labour Party sent out a press release calling for a council conference. The city council, university, students and neighbourhoods should work together to create a new student policy.
A successful example of co-operation is the Inkom. Local neighbourhood platforms served pie (vlaai) on the market on Tuesday, to welcome the new students. The trial project with student policeman Paul Vermin, who was appointed about a year ago as a contact person for students (and neighbourhood residents who have complaints about students), has yielded positive results. Vermin: “The good thing is that we the police no longer talk about but with students. This has improved the situation. Eight years ago, I arrived in a neighbourhood that was on the verge of attacking students with baseball bats. Recently I was in a neighbourhood where there were problems with students; I heard them say: ‘They are our people’, (Dat zien die vaan us).”
Mayor Hoes emphasised that students had to do their bit. “Don’t put everything in the hands of the city council, because then chances are that it will end up in the official channels.” He dreams of a mix of tradition and innovation, like last year with the Heiligdomsvaart, a religious procession that is held once every seven years. He thinks that their co-operation with Fashionclash, a platform for talented young designers, is a successful example. “That is Maastricht today.”
“We recently invited prince carnival to our clubhouse, which attracted an enormous number of students,” says Joshua de Kroes. “It is important that both groups come in contact with each other.” Han Hoogma from carnival association Tempeleers agrees. “We know the ritual with the landlady ‘Vrow Wielemösj’, our aim is to organise a party for everyone.” The university doesn’t seem to share that aim, observed discussion leader Wammes Bos, because they organised resits – believe it or not – on Ash Wednesday. Postema: “Yes unfortunately, that is a shame. Apologies. In 2010 we had exams that took place immediately before Christmas, which was not good either.”
Coming in contact with each other, even becoming a member of a neighbourhood platform, that is what Heiner Salomon would like too. But how is that possible if you don’t speak Dutch, he wonders. “Maastricht University should offer more language courses.” Postema does not promise any improvement. “Should the UM spend its money on education or on language courses?” Only to answer the question himself by saying: offering language courses is fine, but students will have to make some contribution themselves. Constanze Müller, German and also from Novum: “The population should help foreign students to learn Dutch. It does not work if they immediately switch to English.”
“It has never gone as well as it does now,” assures senior lecturer Pieter Caljé, who specialises in the history of students and their universities: “In the 19th century, students and citizens were completely separate from each other, while these days you even find them side by side in the city council. At the same time, we should not forget that students form a separate group. Most of them are here temporarily, they are preparing for later life. They train for this among each other, within their own circle. It will always remain a separate group. Students will never become inhabitants like regular citizens would wish, and maybe should not wish for.”
Wendy Degens, Riki Janssen, Maurice Timmermans
Guest editor-in-chief: the mayor
During the week that mayor Onno Hoes acts as guest editor-in-chief, Observant organised a Lower House debate on a theme proposed by Hoes: The Maastricht student should become more involved with the city of Maastricht. Using a number of propositions, including 'the city and university have had their backs against each other for 35 years now', two panels entered into a debate. On the one side of the stage were representatives of the city (from the Heiligdomsvaart, student policeman, alderman, Tempeleers, Mastreechter Staar, JIM to Struyskommitee), opposing were those from the university (from chairpersons of student associations and student parties, Executive Board, UM Sports to Student Services). Two discussion leaders – Wammes Bos and Marcel Schrijnemaekers – led the debate. Mayor Onno Hoes gave the kick-off.