'Not fair'

Study associations will miss out on hundreds of euros next year

Study associations responded with indignation to the news that they will no longer be allowed to apply for subsidies from the Vidius fund. These subsidies came from Bestuurlijk Actief, the joint desk that provides financial support to student organisations of Utrecht University (UU) and the Utrecht University of applied sciences (HU).

“Frustrating.” That's how Dirkje Sluijs, president of study association Awater, qualifies the decision to exclude study associations from this subsidy. Claire Bruls, president of study association Alcmaeon, says the news shocked her. “This can have major financial consequences for us. We get quite a lot of money from Vidius. We basically need those funds for study-related activities but we use them for cultural activities as well.”

The loss of income hits the new board especially hard. They don’t know what they’re in for, says Sluijs, because the budget for next year was counted with the money from Vidius in mind. Bruls adds: “We didn’t get a chance to figure this out for the new board, the news came so suddenly.”

A gap in the budget
Both study associations organise activities with Vidius funds three times a year. Awater, the association for the Dutch Language & Culture programme, has 164 members and uses the money to organise its musical evening, a symposium, and Family Day, an event in which family members are treated to a mini-lecture or a tour of Utrecht.

The 2,4000 members of the Psychology association Alcmaeon use the subsidy to attend the annual career dinner or their theatre show. “We need the Vidius funds to be able to organise the theatre show. It’s a relatively expensive, but beautiful project.”

According to Bruls, the loss of the Vidius fund subsidies can have "far-reaching" financial consequences. “We’ll have a major gap in our budget. It’s hard to estimate what exactly the consequences will be.”

“It’s possible that we’ll have to make certain activities less open to the public because members will have to pay more for them”, she mentions as a possible consequence. “We don’t want to ask our members to pay too much because that isn’t inclusive. We think a study association should be accessible to everyone. That can also mean we won’t be able to organise certain activities next year at all.” Sluijs adds: “If we don’t get the Vidius subsidies, we’ll have to take the money from other parts of the budget or ask our members to pay a higher fee. We really don’t want to do either of these options.”

Financial gaps
Vidius, too, fears that study associations will face financial gaps. “Compared to other associations that were eligible for the funds, study associations tended to apply for these subsidies quite often,” informs Vidius' President Anna van Ommen. “There is no clear backup plan. We’ve been told that the faculties are supposed to finance the study associations, but given that the financial situation varies greatly from faculty to faculty, we don’t trust that these faculties will compensate for the loss of our fund.”

Vidius expressed its concerns in a letter to the Executive Board, which has been seen by DUB. The letter has been co-signed by 32 out of 50 study associations from UU. “We are very worried about how this will be compensated for, especially given the fact that no clear, realistic, balanced policy has been communicated on how faculties are to shoulder this increased responsibility,” Vidius writes.

Umbrella organisations
The reason study associations will no longer be able to apply for the Vidius fund subsidies is that Bestuurlijk Actief has reconsidered the division of subsidies. HU and UU felt the division of funds could be done in a fairer way, explains Lennart van Wageningen, policy officer for student organisations at UU, who is part of Bestuurlijk Actief. Previously, study associations could use these funds because there was “a grey area” according to Van Wageningen. “But, strictly speaking, faculties and study programmes are responsible for financing the study associations.”

The university is trying to fix the situation in the new system. According to Van Wageningen, “HU and UU recognise a number of umbrella organisations through Bestuurlijk Actief.” These umbrella organisations, such as the Sports Council for student sports associations at Olympos, and the Federation of Utrecht Leisure Associations (FUG), are eligible to apply for the so-called umbrella subsidy. Van Wageningen says Vidius is an umbrella organisation too: it’s categorised as ‘other’, similar to ESN and Enactus. “Study associations aren’t a part of this umbrella, so the subsidies aren’t meant for them.”

Before the revision, Vidius received a total of 10,000 euros a year from Bestuurlijk Actief, to divide among study associations and ‘other’ associations. Associations could receive up to three donations of 330 euros each year. Starting next year, Vidius will have 4,425 euros to spend, but that is only meant for the ‘other’ associations.

Money from the faculties
Late last year, Vidius was told by Bestuurlijk Actief that study associations “are no longer their concern” and that the faculties will now be responsible for financing them. Vidius secretary Pepijn van Ijperenburg claim that the decision “was never really firmly communicated” to Vidius, while Bestuurlijk Actief argues that Vidius should have been “aware” of it.

“The predecessors of the current Vidius board were told that study associations would no longer be included. That was mentioned several times,” declares Van Wageningen. Van IJperenburg acknowledges that in discussions with his predecessor, Bestuurlijk Actief had mentioned that study associations would disappear from the fund but, at the time, that “wasn’t confirmed in writing”. As a result, it remained “unclear” how things would change and what solutions would be offered.

Vidius thinks that Bestuurlijk Actief did not properly communicate this change, but the organisation states that it does not communicate directly with study associations. In late May, Vidius informed the study associations about the decision. Van IJperenburg: “We don’t see this as our responsibility because we’re not the ones making this decision. But we did it to prevent associations from finding out in September that they can no longer count on the money from this fund.”

“We’re dissatisfied with numerous points in this process,” says the secretary, stressing that the "true issue" is that, in removing the financing for study associations, there is no “alternative plan” to “accommodate” the loss of funds. For that reason, Vidius “urgently” asks the Executive Board in a letter to restart the conversations with representatives of the Study Association Council (SVR) and the Vidius board.

Vidius also gives a number of recommendations. “We propose an emergency fund for the short term until a structural, more appropriate solution for this issue is found,” the organisation writes. “Until then, this situation feels like a budget cut to us, and we don’t feel like we’re being taken seriously.”

“Of course, the university isn't glad to see acute issues arising at the study associations,” Van Wageningen states. “We don’t think this is desirable. That was never the goal of this revision. Study associations are of great importance to UU. We’re happy to look for a solution.”