Student members of the UU council demand higher wages, less hours, and more support
In a memo to the Executive Board (accessible to those with a Solis ID), Lijst Vuur's party leader Annemarijn Oudejans writes that the student section of the council is asking for fewer working hours to reduce the high work pressure experienced by the council members. In their view, the time investment should be reduced from 28-30 hours a week to 20-24 hours a week.
“It’s not uncommon for one or two students to drop out each year because of the amount of work, among other reasons", Oudejans says. According to the Lijst Vuur's chair, it "shouldn't be customary for students to finish their year serving at the council feeling overworked, exhausted and relieved that it’s all over.”
Hard to make ends meet
In addition, the student members are asking for higher wages, in conformity with the wages earned by student assistants. The current compensation for the student members of the University Council amounts to 681 euros per month (net) for those studying part-time and 715 euros per month for those registered at the university for an entire academic year.
“For 32 hours of council work a week, you will be paid between 5 euros and 6 euros an hour on the flex study grant", explains Sifra Meijers, member of the party UUinActie. "In our opinion, this contributes to the problem of not finding enough candidates for the elections. Student jobs usually pay twice as much. Other students working at the university get 14 to 18 euros an hour. We think it would be only fair if our compensation corresponded to what other students working for the university are earning."
“The current compensation for university council members is too low to make ends meet”, Oudejans states. To add insult to injury, the amount of work the role entails makes it impossible for students to have a side job or study next to their council work, even though they are still supposed to pay their tuition fees. For Dutch students, "a council year is equal to one year of increasing student debt”, protests the Vuur chain. In the letter, the student section of the council argues that every student should be able to serve in the council for a year, regardless of their financial situation.
“We are in favour of either increasing the compensation, establishing a fixed wage or decreasing the number of hours members are expected to work, so they can do something on the side.” In addition, the student members would like the boards of their parties to get a grant so they can dedicate more time to supporting the members of the party, organising election campaigns, and writing memos.
The student section of the council would also like council work to receive more support. This could be achieved with the help of a codetermination coordinator or a communication employee, for example. Another option would be having the chair and the clerk perform more of a “mentor role.” “The council lacks support in several areas right now”, says Vuur's chair. A codetermination coordinator is an employee who supports the student members, helping them achieve a smooth transition, for example.
The communication employee would take over part of the promotional activities from the board. "The latest elections have shown that students aren't very interested or invested in the council. They are not aware of the fact that they can vote for the council. They often do not even know what the University Council and Faculty Council do", laments Oudejans. "To increase the turnout, it is crucial to improve the communication about the council."
Longer council year
The student section rejects the Executive Board's idea of overlapping appointments and introducing a two-year part-time term because part of the council would start at the beginning of the academic year, while another part would join at the beginning of the second semester.
The Executive Board's reasoning is that serving longer would enable students to acquire more knowledge and experience, not to mention the transition would run more smoothly. According to the student section, however, this would be "detrimental" to "the sense of community", as it would be "awkward" to have some members joining the council halfway through the academic year and the elections would have to be redesigned.
Extending the term from one to two years would be "too drastic" a change, according to the student section. They argue that students' schedules are "not completely fixed", which renders a two-year term "unattractive".
Participation councils have been struggling for quite a while, and not just at Utrecht University. Student members feel as though they are not supported enough and the turnout keeps on falling in the elections, which often have too few candidates. The Utrecht-based student parties De Vrije Student and UUinActie, for example, were unable to find enough candidates to take part in the last elections, which were held in May. In addition, most UU students were poorly informed about what the councils do and when the elections are held. Only 11 percent of UU's students cast a vote in the last elections, a dramatically low turnout.