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17 July 2024

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Housing problems threaten the study associations

The recently modified relocation plans for the W&N building allocate 70 per cent less space to study associations. This has led to disbelief and a letter to the Executive Board: “We have no confidence in our future existence.”

As most know, the W&N building will undergo renovation soon. The home of the science faculty no longer meets the educational and research requirements set by VU Amsterdam and will therefore be almost entirely demolished by 2024. This makes sense, as the facilities are technologically outdated and the building houses the fastest-growing faculty of the university. Only the AB wing will remain as an independent building, with space reserved for the fourteen study associations and several classrooms and laboratories.

Since 2014, the Faculty Board and the study associations have been discussing the new space allocation. This led to a jointly developed Program of Requirements in 2018, which outlined the first concrete agreements: the study associations in the W&N building would jointly relinquish 30 per cent of their space, which translates to a reduction from 1,124 square meters to 736 square meters.

Half the space

Maarten Sol was the chairman of GeoVUsie in 2018: “After a lot of discussions, we realised that we had to give up some space. The reduction established at the time was still manageable. The associations still had to agree on the layout, but that was a concern for later. Together, we stood strong and we were able to fight for a space that was no more than 30 per cent smaller. The Faculty Board has always been involved in these negotiations and has helped us a lot. Whatever was going to change – which was obviously going to happen – those assigned square meters were fixed.”

Even though the plans have since been broadly worked out, VU Amsterdam suddenly altered them in December. The climate chambers – the laboratory rooms of the ecology department – had to be reinserted, which asked for a new calculation. As a result, the housing of the study associations was more than halved, from the promised 736 square meters to 350 square meters. 

‘The new plans will lead to estrangement, forced mergers, and a loss of our identity’

Not undesirable, but unworkable

The chairs of the study associations responded with a letter of concern addressed to the Executive Board, together with FSR Science, the USR, the SRVU, and six program directors and coordinators at the faculty. The letter describes a pressing shortage of space: “With these recently announced plans, we have no confidence in the future existence of the study associations in the science faculty. The current plan for only 350 square meters divided among our growing associations will result in less than 20 square meters per association, which in no way forms a workable situation. There is no room for individual member rooms, board rooms or storage, which will lead to estrangement, forced mergers, and thereby a loss of our identity. Organising both educational and non-educational activities cannot be realised with the announced square meters.”

From bar to broom closet

Danique Wetzels, the current chairwoman of GeoVUsie, emphasizes the importance of study associations for student well-being at the VU. We spoke in the Houtzagerij, a members’ room in the style of a brown café, filled with memorabilia from the association. “We’ll have to throw away almost everything. It’s such a pity because this is the heart of our association. Our room is the only place where students from different years come together, and where we organize activities for VU staff and the faculty in general throughout the year. For international and first-year students, this is a safe place in an unfamiliar city. Soon, we will have to turn away students if it gets too crowded.”

‘We should cherish the thriving association life at VU Amsterdam’

About the impending identity loss, she says: “Some associations will have to share their rooms in the new plans. There were even plans to house all associations in one common members’ room, I’m glad we were able to prevent that.”

Maarten underlines the concerns: “We’ve been afraid of this for years, that something you‘ve invested so much energy in for so long can be undone so easily. No other university has such a thriving association life as VU Amsterdam, specifically the science faculty. Students feel connected to their university and are part of the institute. That’s something we should be proud of and cherish.”

Part of a larger problem

Corporate Real Estate and Facilities (FCO) are responsible for the relocation of the science faculty. Diederik Leusink commented on their behalf: “The science faculty and FCO acknowledge the problems surrounding the limited space available for study associations. However, this issue cannot be seen separately from the lack of space for all faculty activities: education, research, and the necessary support. The entire faculty, including study associations, faces enormous challenges with regard to future housing on campus due to its strong growth. The available scarce space will be allocated optimally and utilised effectively for all components.”

“We recognise the importance of the unifying nature of study associations, both professionally and socially. Therefore, we also recognise the importance to house these associations properly. To do this, we will need to take into account the scarcity of space for all users.”

Hitting limits

“The study associations aren’t the only tailpiece of the housing puzzle”, says Yves Bollen. As educational coordinator of the bachelor’s Biology, he signed the letter from the associations. He also works in the same department as the ecologists who will move to the AB wing next year. “Previous agreements have been made with our department as well. In the initial relocation plans, the aim was actually to be more efficient with space, with fewer square meters than in the current building. However, in the past ten years, the science faculty has grown enormously: we have almost doubled in student and staff numbers. The plans are constantly overtaken by growth, which is why we’re hitting limits on all sides.”

“The climate chambers were first designed in the new O|2 building, but certain spatial and technical requirements were not taken into account: for example, our laboratory rooms produce a lot of heat. That’s why they now have to be fitted into the AB wing. The ecologists aren’t happy about this either, as the rest of the department will still move to the O|2 building.”

Hopeful note

According to FCO, the final layout of the AB wing will be ready in a few months. The study associations end their letter on a hopeful note: “Due to the late announcement of this situation, we hope that we will have more time to take action. We would be happy to discuss this issue with you and work together on possible solutions that take into account the interests of all parties.”

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