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Each year students of the VUB cast their votes to re-elect their representatives for the Student Council from a pool of candidates. Dominiek has been a member of the council for four years. Julie for two years, but even before that she had been actively engaged in the active student representation of campus Jette. Both council ‘celebrities’ are about the take their final bow after a long career in serving the interests of fellow students, something they look back on with pleasure and pride: “At the VUB students get a real voice. Progress can be slow at times but you do eventually see the result.”
When veterans Dominiek Stroo and Julie Bussche sit at the table juggling ideas on what it takes to be a committed representative, they have just done the same with King Philip. Student representation is inherent in our university’s DNA. It reflects our commitment to keeping the flame alive and burning, even in the broader student communities.
Achievements of the Student Council
Dominiek: “I am quite proud of our achievements. We were successful in jump-starting and making headway in areas that did require attention: early examination schedules, group study spaces and tutoring, the opening of the lounge bars, the financial and legal framework for student organisations, … I think we have established ourselves as responsible drivers of change by showing the ability to compromise or by retaining a constructive dialogue on issues despite disagreeing with the actions undertaken such as, for instance, the new VUB corporate identity and especially in terms of the costs it involved. Personally, I knocked down many doors last year to convince my faculty that more student-friendly exam registration procedures were long overdue.”
Julie: “Not all accomplishments as a student representative are equally visible. We used much of the time we had in the past two years to build a relationship with the student community through initiatives such as the Week of the Student. Working students and those commuting from further away still present challenges in terms of our ability to reach out and get them involved, although we have made some progress in the area of internationalilsation with the help of the International Student Platform. For me, personally, VUBrusselt remains a high point – I had put in an enormous amount of energy into the project and it was rewarding to see it become a success. The fact that we could integrate and interconnect many of the activities available to students in Jette around the time of Kick-Off was also important to me. The event allowed everyone on that campus to get involved in some way or another.”
Dominiek: “I found the last two years to be very productive in different ways. The previous student council had unlocked many doors through which one could now freely walk in and bring in change. This is something we considered worthy of stepping into.”
Julie: “The political statement we delivered about the availability of night transport in Brussels shows we were able to shift the internal focus onto the authorities of the City of Brussels who were made concretely aware of our goals.”
Our impact and personal learning trajectory
Being a VUB student representative is certainly an amazing adventure. It takes a lot of energy but in the end the balance is still mostly positive.
Dominiek: “With the Student Council, a team of twenty active students, we fill eighty student representative positions in several councils. It requires a lot of time but I can honestly recommend it to any VUB student. For me, personally, it was a long learning process with many positive contacts, a way of gaining professional maturity. You learn to express views and set goals. You often start by being very idealistic but then take realism into account to maintain motivated. Not all students understand that there are times when you have put something aside to accomplish other things along the way. Ideology alone is not enough. “
Julie: “You feel that you really do have a voice as a student. Student representatives stand on par with faculty, department and service executives, and even with the university rector. You do witness their sincere commitment to the students. There is also the growing tendency to involve students more actively in projects. By getting to know the university from behind the scenes, I have become an even more assertive and proactive VUB’er. “
Dominiek: “Of course, not everything goes smoothly at all times, there is some fighting. For instance, in our quest on multipurpose spaces for student organisations we are still battling the internal bureaucratic ping pong. Once we were given an office in the ‘M’ building, we decided to open our own space on the Triomflaan. We expect a formal decision on this soon. “
Julie: “Also communication aimed at students can be somewhat more structured. The VUB needs a clear student portal instead of the current fragmentation … a sort of Facebook for students with notifications rather than an overload of emails.”
Dominiek: “I have also seen the beginnings of a new governance structure being created during my term. It calls for fewer acting directors but still there are no real concise, short and clear decisions being made. You can often reach out to more people through having informal contacts. But that is all an integral part of the learning process. “
Julie: “You always feel that the VUB is responsive towards its students. For the Basic Fit issue, for example, we managed to put our ideas and goals on paper and rector De Knob did negotiate terms in our favour, even though he might have initially had other ideas. His approach and attitude were really appreciated. Current rector Caroline Pauwels is also very open to students. Moreover, there is no better school for professional time management than being a member of the Student Council. I have become much more efficient in everything. “
Dominiek: “If you decide to go for it, a commitment like this will indeed have some impact on your studies. On the other hand, the skills of representing, negotiating, are not taught in lecture theatres. There are many ways in which you can become active, student representation comes in all shapes and sizes. The Student Council might in fact demand the most time but the role of student representatives can actually be very broad. Just look at the number of representatives in faculty and education councils. Any student who commits himself in one way or another to being a representative of their campus community makes the VUB that much more VUB-ish. Any kind of commitment is worth it.”
Julie: “Even as a non-student representative you can make a difference by voting, for example, or by supporting the candidate of your faculty or by speaking out. Filling the teacher evaluations is such a simple contribution yet very few students take the time. Nevertheless, the education e-valuation can only make effective statements, if enough students partake in it. “
Message for the new generation
Before their final departure, current members of the Student Council are still willing to help their successors kick-start their new role.
Julie: “For our latest project - ‘Notes on Student representation’ - we require the help of a student working part-time to support the operation. The Student Council is a policy making body but in practice there is often a lot of operational work. We are also setting up workshops and training to facilitate the start. “
Dominiek: “We would also like to remind students still in doubt of whether to become representatives that they may be able to invoke the ‘reflex status’ while upholding their new role whilst studying. There is also a scholarship for students who are financially disadvantaged, and which would assist them in their mandate as student council members.”
Being the true “oldies” of the craftsmanship, they also have a dose of good advice and tips for aspirants.
Dominiek: “Be patient. There are times when things won’t get accomplished. Think long-term. Also, don’t act like a full-time director but keep being student. “
Julie: “Combining it all with your studies seems at first glance difficult but you will learn valuable time management skills along the way to help you keep it up. Keep close to the students, engage and involve them but be also prepared for criticism. You cannot please everyone but you can lay out and explain your decisions in a motivating manner.”
Dominiek: “The chance to become a VUB student representative is actually a really great thing. There is a lot of mutual appreciation. It is also nice to be able to do something good for the university in return. After all, being a student is more than just studying. “
Julie: “Thanks to being a student representative I was able to get to know the VUB in a completely different way. I feel so much richer in life experience.”
Thanks to Dominiek and Julie and all other student representatives for their commitment.