Campus 07 oktober 2020 reacties 1

Participation council and executive board clash over language barrier

The executive board of the VU should do more for international members of the student councils, like hire professional interpretators, translate documents and offer English-language training modules. So says the central participation council of the VU, consisting of the works council and the central student council of the VU.

"If the VU wants to be an international campus, it should offer the necessary provisions for an inclusive environment", Norah Karrouche of the works council said earlier this afternoon, in a joint meeting of the participation council and the executive board. "Or else we should reconsider our priorities and ask ourselves how important we still think internationalisation is. An international campus doesn't just come about by itself."

Heated discussion

A heated discussion and a lot of confusion followed when Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam stated that the participation council was supposed to have come up with a plan to accomodate its international members (currently three), and a member of the student council riposted that Subramaniam had promised to provide for professional interpreters and a pilot plan earlier this year.

"I don't think it's up to us to take the initiative here", Karrouche said. She thinks it's the executive board's task to take some concrete measures to be evaluated yearly, for instance when the student council is replaced by a new council, and probably will have a different number of international members. Professional interpreters are costly (about a thousand euros per interpreter, per meeting) but as the council changes, its needs change too. Besides, not all the student councils of the separate faculties have international members.

Passive Dutch

The chairwoman of the executive board, Mirjam van Praag, became slightly irritated when one international council member, Ayesha Noorain, remarked that as an international student she paid a higher tuition fee than other students, suggesting she therefore had a right to a professional interpreter and translated documents to be able to better prepare for participation meetings. "I don't like that argument at all", Van Praag said.

Earlier she had pointed out that a set of measures to provide international students with translations and interpreters would go against the VU's official policy, demanding of international students and employees to at least passively understand Dutch. "We would have to review that policy too", Van Praag stated.

Dragging discussion

Surpisingly she and Subramaniam were supported by another international student, Selin Çakmak, who declared she managed fine with the student interpreters who are currently employed to live translate during meetings and with Google Translate for translating documents. "We really don't need a professional translator", Çakmak said. "What we do need, is to end this process that has been going on for a year and a half now, during which we have discussed how to do it rather than just do it. This is a conversation that keeps dragging on. Let's focus on a solution."

Çakmak was immediately asked by Van Praag to function as a consultant in the matter for the executive board.

Both the council and the board agreed in the end to try both professional interpreters and student translators, and evaluate later how this works out.

Peter Breedveld
BEELD: Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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Door Paola Gori Giorgi op 09 oktober 2020

We attract foreign students with programs given in English. Then we must allow them to participate in the democratic process of our university. Reaching the level of passive Dutch needed to follow complex discussions as the one work council - faculty board requires minimum 1-2 years (unless you come from a country with a very similar language or you have some special talent for languages; typically it will require more: these are complex, difficult, discussions). Two years is the timespan of a master. This way, foreign students are de facto excluded from the democratic process. In other words: the argument of passive Dutch does not make any sense when discussing about international students participating in the work council.


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