This is your second year as a member of the University Student Council. Are you addicted to meetings?
“Last year I served as chairperson of the Faculty Student Council of Social Sciences. The year before I was a general member of the student council. I am a firm believer in student representation. This year, there were not enough applicants, so I decided to clear my schedule. I am well-versed in the way education is organized at VU Amsterdam. By the way, I am not the only one who has signed up for a second round on the council; in fact, there are three others.”
The University Student Council (USR in Dutch) promotes the interests of all VU students. The Council frequently confers with the Executive Board and the Staff Council. The Council has the right of assent and right of advice on all administrative decisions that affect students.
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So we will get a highly experienced student council this year?
“Yes, and that is partly due to the coronavirus crisis, which is likely to blame for the lack of new members. When they found out, various members from previous years agreed to another year.”
Does that mean this year will be a piece of cake for you?
“Quite the contrary. We have our work cut out for us. Due to the coronavirus crisis, student life is now vastly different than before. Most classes will not take place on campus and exams are mostly online. I see that a lot is still unclear for new students, and many are wondering if they will be able to take any courses on campus in the new academic year. Will I be able to study in the library? What do I do if I fail a course? What if I don’t have the option of attending classes remotely or if studying at home is not possible?”
What can you do for these students?
“We plan to make every effort to ensure that students receive the information they need so they know what to expect. Of course the situation at the start of the coronavirus crisis was a bit hectic and uncertain, but we have moved on since then. It should now be possible to provide students with clear information on what to expect when they take part in an online seminar or lecture.”
“We also want to organize training courses for teaching staff, so they can quickly get used to the technology they’re using. One of my lecturers once spent forty minutes during an online seminar trying to set up a break-out session for smaller groups. There is a lot that can be improved in online education.”
Is it necessary to develop a standard for teaching staff to use for online lectures or seminars?
“Perhaps. In recent months it has become clear that people use different online programmes, some of which work better than others. For example: if you record a lecture as a videocast, then students will have to go through the entire lecture to find that one important piece of information. There are easier ways.”
Three of your council members are international students. Does this mean your meetings will be held in English?
“Yes, the official language of our meetings will now be English. But in joint meetings with the Staff Council and the Executive Board, this may be difficult to ensure. These meetings often serve to discuss legal documents drawn up in Dutch. You cannot expect non-native speakers to respond on the spot. We are looking into possible solutions such as the use of an interpreter, for example.”
Is Google Translate insufficient?
“I believe that an international organization such as VU Amsterdam should have access to the facilities required to allow international students as much say as their Dutch counterparts and university employees. I seriously doubt that Google Translate would suffice.”
Are you doing anything for first-year students?
“For the new cohort, the beginning of their student life will be completely different than usual. It will be much harder for them to meet new people. We want VU Amsterdam to take notice. We also want to encourage study associations to organize activities for first-year students, such as online drinks events or pub quizzes. It is very important that we make them feel welcome.”