"Sometimes you have to be satisfied with just planting the seeds”

"Sometimes you have to be satisfied with just planting the seeds”

University elections: student council members about their expectations

17-04-2024 · Background

You have been elected as student council member of the University Council or the faculty council – finally you can implement all your plans for student well-being, housing and sustainability. Or not? What can students who are elected during the university elections (22-25 April) expect of their work? And what can the voters expect from them?

He had high hopes when he took up his position in the law faculty council last September, Cristian Rusu laughs. “I thought: now we are going to work to improve everything that is not working well.” And yes, he feels heard by the faculty board. “I can raise my concerns, I have been given a voice.” But real change – that turns out to be a lot tougher.

Rusu has noticed that not everyone is up for that, sometimes because they don’t want to mess with the status quo, sometimes because it is extra work (on top of the high workload they already have), and it costs money. Also, even if everyone is on the same page, it is slow going. “It is really a long-winded process: you have to bring up your point multiple times.”

“Start on time,” University Council member Lea Bilić laughs. “The university is a slow tanker. Sometimes, you have to be satisfied with just planting the seeds. Make sure that you hand over properly to the next council members, who can then continue on after you.”

Adjusting the course

Rusu also finds it difficult to know exactly what the councils are for. “In the beginning of my term, they often said to me: the council is not about that, we can't decide that here. It was only after a few months that I finally got the hang of how everything truly worked.” “During my first term I constantly heard: ‘you need to approach the Programme Committee’,” remembers Jan Super, a member of the faculty council at Science and Engineering for 2.5 years.

He has found his way by now. “What the council can do is to adjust the course of the board’s plans. At NovUM, for example, we feel student housing is important. We cannot do anything about that directly, but we can say to the FSE board: try to expand in particular in Venlo and on the Brightlands campuses, not in Maastricht where rooms are in short supply.”

Bilić, on the other hand, was positively surprised. “I mainly wanted to concentrate on making the university more inclusive for people with disabilities. We set up a subgroup with other council members, with whom we spoke to those involved and gained proper insight into the present situation. We are now working on a proposal. I didn’t know that that was possible – being able to dive into a subject like that, as long as there are council members with the same interest.”

No list of action points

Change doesn’t just take a long time, there is often more involved than you can imagine, says Romijn Kroep, student council member at the School of Business and Economics. “You can make your points the subject of discussion, but finding a solution is quite hard. A decision appears to be linked to all sorts of things. It also depends of course on how much you yourself want something, maybe as students we don’t always put enough power behind it.”

Consider the election programme as a way to know what the candidates want, says University Council member Jip Bremer, not as a list of action points. “You won’t move heaven and earth in one year. You will get to see how things work, you learn about what it takes to manage a university. And discover that maintaining what already exists and making sure it continues to run well, may be even more important than change.”

Asking questions

Then the council work itself, is it doable? Do the students get enough training and explanation about things such as the budget beforehand – one of the most important items over which the representative bodies have right of approval? Bremer feels that as a University Council member you are given a good basis. “You are given enough information to take a critical look. And you can always ask; I have never experienced there not being an answer.” Super feels that the training at FSE “was fantastic, and afterwards everyone knew how it worked,” and Kroep is positive too: “You may not understand all the details, but the outlines are clear.”

Rusu is more critical: “You are given a whole lot of information in a short space of time. Afterwards you may know how to read a budget, but you don’t really understand what it means. I had the feeling that there was no other option than just agreeing.” Bilić recognises that. “I mainly wondered: what does this actually mean? If we spend so much money on this item, are we taking it away from something else? Also, are we spending more than last year? I wanted more context – for instance, what do other universities spend on this – and more examples.” In the end, the entire NovUM party fraction in the University Council, to which Bilić belongs, refrained from voting when the budget was on the agenda last year.

Communicating

Lastly, what can student council members expect? “Not that all of one’s election wishes will come true, but that one makes the effort,” says Kroep. “That you are the point of contact for other students,” says Bilić. “That you are available to listen to their issues. One thing we did, was to organise coffee dates with council members; or someone approaches you via e-mail or Instagram. Sometimes you can help out immediately: for example, I referred students to the Concern and Complaints point, which they didn’t know existed.” Rusu and Super also mention communicating with your supporters. Bremer adds to that by saying: “Have a broad view, really listen to your fellow council members.”

Should council members attend every meeting? “Certainly most of them. If you are elected, I feel you should be present,” says Kroep. “It is a paid position,” Rusu adds. “And it is not that much work, really, a two-hour meeting per month and some preparation work.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Illustration: Bas van der Schot

Tags: universityelections2024,university council,faculty council,elections,student council member,novum,dope,kan party,instagram

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