From May 14 to May 18, the University of Amsterdam is calling for students to vote for the Student Council Elections 2018. Different parties introduced their candidates for three different categories: student councils, faculty student council and central student council.
Central Student Council: What the parties want
Blink Ujjin, 19, a second-year economics and business student at UvA, joined UvA Sociaal as a candidate for this year’s Central Student Council. Ujjin advocates for diversity, sustainability, and accessibility to the university. One of the key ideas which the party supports is the decentralisation of decision-making in order to provide more autonomy to the students and teachers. “Students know what is best for them,” explains the candidate. UvA Sociaal plan aims to decrease the amount of mandatory classes in order to allow students to “study at their own pace,” and “make classes more interactive.” One of their major opponents, De Vrije Student, shares a similar opinion regarding the freedom they want to give to the students. Indeed, they aim to make all lectures available online. “We do agree with having recorded lectures but in comparison to [them], (…) [we] don’t want to force any guest lecturers who don’t feel comfortable to be recorded,” agues Ujjin. In other words, UvA Sociaal wants to make recorded lectures optional and recommends this approach but does not want to make them mandatory.
Internationalization of the University
One of the recurrent topics present in each of the parties’ plans are diversity and quality of education. “We want the university to take the societal responsibility and we want to internationalise the university in terms of diversity,” said Uva Sociaal. “We want the information to be available in both English and Dutch.” However, the Hervorm FMG, which says to share this idea on their website, provides a description in Dutch only in the information website of the elections. On their Facebook page, however, the descriptions are written in English. Ksenya Golub, 21, a second-year communication science student and candidate for the Faculty Student Council election for Uva Sociaal, complains about this issue: “The programs should only switch to the English track […] if they have the substainable education level already.” In many occasions, the University website provides information, sometimes important, in Dutch only or partially in English. However, the issue gets more relevant when it affects the academic success of international students. “They were not ready to switch to English,” says Golub, “not all teachers are qualified, […] sometimes the slides are in Dutch.” In 2017 a Communication Science exam had to be re-taken due to grammatical mistakes and wrong translations. That course was the first one to ever exist in English for the program. The opposing party, List Sefa, had been working on a solution for the issue this year, and plans on continuing to do so if re-elected for next year. Marcin Muchowicz, 21, chair of Organisation and Media Committee of the Faculty Student Council for the Economics and Business faculty and candidate for the second time, explains that the party was able to provide Dutch courses for half the price to the students this year. However, their aim is to make the course free to all international students next year in order to allow students to “integrate into the Dutch culture more and find a market in which they can find a job later.”
Fighting against financial cuts
Earlier this year, the university announced financial cuts for the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. This news followed the already-known cuts that affected the Faculty of Humanities and the Law Faculty. Consequently, a group of students protested on April 19 against the digitalisation of the courses and the decreases in tutorial and lecture hours. “We demand clarity and answers!” read one of the flyers they distributed during the demonstration. UvA Sociaal member Golub, candidate for the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, believes the financial cuts are secret and “not really noticeable” by the students. The Communication Science program will be affected by having its lecture hours reduced by 12.5%. “I can only speak for my program now, we cannot do something legitimate about (the financial cuts) apart from the protest,” Golub explains. “When we are in the student council, we can speak more to the dean and go to their office.” Indeed, the power of the student council is limited and few changes have been seen. However, the candidate stays positive: “I will fight for that because I think digital education is not the best idea.”
More quality, less quantity
Muchowicz wants to work alongside other faculties to pressure the dean to interact with the municipality, and together provide more accommodations to both Dutch and international students. According to the candidate, List Sefa has “much more experienced people” than the other parties, which makes them more able to provide solutions to the issues the students could have. “We want to make sure that [the students] study in a class where [they] can ask questions.” Indeed, with the growing amount of students that apply for the Economics and Business program, the party is “not sure that the University can support so many students.” For Golub, “It is important to keep quality rather than quantity of students.” From focussing on the good communication in English with international students to make the university more accessible, Golub believe a way to improve the quality could start by having a more legitimate power among the students. Last year, her program created the buddy program in which a student representative would be the spokesperson of the students. However, for Muchowicz, to “make sure that the quality of education is rising in [the] University” is by improving study spaces around the campus and increase the quality of the tutorials.
Despite the motivation of the candidates, students were often not informed of the elections in advance. Irene van der Linde, 24, second-year Master law student, has never voted for the elections, and this year will not make the exception. “I don’t really know much about the student council,” she said. Like her, 24-year-old Vivian Zhu learned about the existence of the student council for the first time on May 15 during the campaign at Roeterseilandcampus. “Voting is not really […] in my culture,” she said. “In China democracy is not that perfect so this will be the first time I vote.” Indeed, the master in international and european law student believes the Student Council would be able to satisfy the needs of the students. “They could organize more student events for international students to make friends, that is why I’m going to vote.”
Unlike Zhu, her 26-year-old classmate, Kathe E., voted in the morning. Making it a habit every year, the master student has faith that the Student Council is able to make changes regarding topics that directly affect the students such as scheduling, design of the building or the cafeteria. “It is hard to get to the bureaucracy that surrounds everything in order to really make a change, so it can be hard for students to only have a year in the Student Council,” she said. The student expects the Student Council to improve the communication, which according to her is not accurate enough. Similarly, she hopes to receive newsletters more often.
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Isabel Bonnet is a 21-year-old second-year student in communication science at UvA. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdammer. Before its creation, she worked as a photo editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and did an internship at Le Monde.