On Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 May you can again vote for the annual elections for the Student Council. What does the Student Council do?
(Photo: Justyna Botor)

On Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 May you can again vote for the annual elections for the Student Council. What does the Student Council do?

Lees in het Nederlands 

And how much influence does the Student Council really have? Seven questions about the elections.

1. What does the Student Council do?
How far in advance do students need to sign up for exams? How much money should TU Delft spend on student welfare? To make sure that students and staff are heard in the decision-making process, all universities are required to have a representative body. Representation at TU Delft is divided into two councils: the Works Council for staff and the Central Student Council for students. The composition of the Student Council changes every year and it meets every month with the Executive Board that – the name gives it away – manages TU Delft. The Student Council is entitled to give advice in various areas including education, organisation, management and financial support for students. The Student Council even has the right of consent in some areas, which means that plans that TU Delft has in these areas first have to be approved by the Student Council before they can be carried out. The Student Council also has the right of initiative: Council members may propose ideas to improve education and student affairs. The Council is divided into two parties – Lijst Bèta and Oras – and being a Council member is a full-time position. Apart from the Central Student Council, each faculty has its own Council, the Faculty Student Council. This Council works on issues within its own faculty such as compliance with the exam regulations.

2. Does the Student Council ever use its right of consent?
The right of consent covers various areas. One of these is TU Delft’s Strategic Plan which describes its long term direction. Another is the regulation around exams. Last year, Lijst Bèta and Oras did not use their right of consent to veto any decisons. “But both Lijst Bèta and Oras have used this right to ensure that students got something in return when the Teaching and Examination Regulations were changed,” says Oras Chair, Maarten de Nooijer. Saraf Nawar, Chair of Lijst Bèta adds that “the Executive Board wanted to change the deadline for signing up for exams from six to 14 days. This was the time period used before the Covid crisis. The six days were apparently not workable for teachers and support staff. We understood their position, but for students it made things difficult. Instead of blocking it, we decided to ask for something in return instead. Students now get a notification on Brightspace when they can sign up for an exam. This makes it less likely that they forget to do so. To us, this was a great benefit.”

3. What about the right of initiative?
Saraf Nawar (Lijst Bèta): “We used our right of initiative to propose a diversity & inclusion plan and convince TU Delft to make funds available for students and student associations wanting to organise activities in the area of diversity and inclusion. The amount is EUR 25,000 a year for four years, so EUR 100,000 in total. Starting next year, students can submit their plans for funding. We had heard from student associations that they wanted to do more about diversity and inclusion, but that their plans were getting stuck because of a lack of funds. Hopefully this will now change.

Maarten de Nooijer (Oras): “We heard that other universities offer menstruation products in their faculties. We also want this facility at TU Delft,” says De Nooijer. “After all, menstruation products are a basic need. We drafted a plan and presented it to the Executive Board. Four faculties now have vending machines for menstruation products. We will evaluate the situation at the end of the year and hopefully we can roll it out across TU Delft. We also want to use our right of initiative to create a central note sharing platform that is freely accessible for all students. It will resemble StudeerSnel 2.0 (a national website containing lecture notes, summaries etc., Eds.). We have now established a project for this, and we hope that we will soon be able to launch it officially.”

4. For whom and how can you vote?
The voting itself will be done digitally on Wednesday 11 May and Thursday 12 May. The digital polling stations will open at 08:00 on Wednesday and close at 17:00 on Thursday. The link to vote is available on Brightspace or check stem.tudelft.nl. If you want to see what the parties stand for, check the websites or Instagram pages of Lijst Bèta and Oras.

5. Why is the Council divided into parties? Is this not counterproductive?
One of the topics that Education Historian Pieter Slaman of the University of Leiden is working on is the history of representation. “The current system of representation is based on the Modernisering Universitaire Bestuursorganisatie (University Government (Modernisation) Act, MUB) which does not prescribe particular political parties,” explains Slaman. “This means that each university is free to organise its elections as it wishes. In Rotterdam for example, up to this year the formation of political parties was banned. Where party formation is permitted, parties immediately emerge. It’s a natural development. Quite logical, really. If you hold a seat on a council as an individual, you spend a lot of time convincing the other members and creating coalitions for every plan. If you hold a seat as part of a political party, you already have your allies and you can stand in unison opposite the Executive Board more quickly.” 

6. Now that we are going into the issue in depth, how did representation come about?
You may be familiar with the well known black and white images of the Maagdenhuis  (the administrative centre of the University of Amsterdam) that was occupied by about 700 students in 1969. The occupation was at the peak of a wave of protests in which students in cities such as Tilburg, Leiden and Utrecht demanded greater representation at their universities. Till then universities were mainly run by administrators and teachers. After occupying and covering the Maagdenhuis with banners for days, the police used force to put an end to the occupation on 21 May 1969. The shocked Cabinet responded quickly. On 9 December 1970, the Wet Universitaire Bestuurshervorming (Bill of Educational Reform, WUB) was featured in the Government Gazette. At TU Delft, this resulted in a University Council one third of which consisted of students, one third of academic staff, and one third of support staff. While this system may have been democratic, it was not very efficient. “The Student Council – or the University Council – was the highest power at TU Delft. The Council made the plans and the Executive Board prepared and implemented the decisons. This created a difficult and slow administration.” For this reason, the then Cabinet introduced a new bill in 1997, the Wet Modernisering Universitaire Bestuursorganisatie (Modernisation of University Managerial Organisation Act, MUB). This Act brought most of the freedoms obtained in 1970 back. The University Council turned into a representative council. Co-administering turned into the right of advice and the right of consent. Once the MUB was passed, TU Delft got a Student Council and a Works Council.

7. With so many rights rescinded, does the Student Council actually have any influence?
“I am quite critical,” says Slaman. “Before, as a Student Council member, you really were co-administering. Now the Executive Board can easily prepare policy in advance and present it to the Council. At some universities, they work on it down to the very last detail. The representative body can then only tick the box at the very last minute. While the councils’ most important weapon is their right of consent, this right applies to issues that do not arise that often, such as the Strategic Plan that is compiled once in four years. And the budget whose main points are subject to the right of consent. The question is, what are the main points? These are not stated anywhere and are thus open to interpretation. Furthermore, much depends on the willingness of an executive board to decide how much information a council gets.”

Neither Nawar nor De Nooijer agree with Slaman. Nawar says that “Since the outbreak of the Covid crisis, we have had monthly informal meetings with Vice Rector Magnificus Rob Mudde. These meetings mean that we can express our concerns at an early stage and it makes it easier to find common ground with the Executive Board. It also means that we can use our right of consent smartly. This right means that the Executive Board cannot circumvent us.” And De Nooijer? “It may be true that we do not sit at the governing table with the Executive Board, but they do take us seriously. They often include our input in planning and decisions and we are often involved in things right from the start.”