Student politics at the UvA: For the people, by the people?

Student politics at the UvA: For the people, by the people?

In late May student elections were once again held and the results are in. On average 15% of the student voted for their faculty councils and 11% of total students voted for the Central Student Council (CSR). Or about 6.500 and 4.510 students respectively. A shockingly low number that in any democracy would lead to questions about the system. This all leads to the question: what can the UvA do to increase student participation?

Tessa Trapp (no relation to the family of singing Austrians), a second-year PPLE student and INTER candidate, recently got elected to do another year in the CSR. Within the CSR she is running on a platform of internationalization and desires the UvA to finally pick an identity and determine if their an international university or a Dutch one. The low election results didn’t come as much of a surprise to her, though the CSR came up with many ideas to promote the elections to students. Some but not all of these were picked up by the UvA, perhaps this may have been done intentionally she says: ‘The UvA is obligated to have a student council and student representation by Dutch law, but this doesn’t mean they want it, a lot of ideas are often thrown out because they interfere with corporate interests.’ She further explains how a lot of information requests by the CSR are ignored or documents are sent back in Dutch, making it impossible for international students to participate.

This coupled with the fact that the average CSR member must combine their council obligation with a study oftentimes leads to a 70+ hour workweek, for which they are compensated very little. The CSR seems to be a thankless job people don’t care too much about, which leads to a lot of members oftentimes dropping out of the council. That Tessa is doing a second year is a rarity. So, how can this be fixed? Tessa seems to think that the best course of action is promoting the visibility of the CSR so a lot more students can vote for them thus increasing their platform and voice. Not just during the elections but throughout the entire year, visibility of the CSR is important and something the UvA needs to help with.  

So does the UvA help? Our university explains that they have set up an extensive promotional campaign in collaboration with the CSR starting in November 2021. To promote this year’s election the UvA, among other things, hosted debates, set up websites and promoted the elections on the websites, in buildings and via email. However, when we asked some students at the University Library and the PC. Hoofthuis, more than fifty percent didn’t vote and said that they were not aware that elections were taking place.

The UvA’s election results have underperformed, something that seems to be in line with the trend set in the last couple of elections. Although the CSR seems to blame the UvA and the UvA says they did all they can to promote the elections, it is clear that more can be done to increase participation in the elections and to increase the visibility of student politics at the university.