Home English USC election debate 2024: Intensive showdown between often unanimous parties

Between May 23 and 29, students of Radboud University can vote for a new composition of the University Student Council (USC). The leading figures of the participating parties came together for an election debate the day before the official kick-off of the electionweek. Resulting in a razor-sharp debate, in which the parties showed a very constructive attitude as well.

The party leaders of the five participating parties, María Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+), Louise Stevens (AKKU), Koen de Kooter (Knokpartij), Emily Heymer (ISEC) and Iris Nieborg (V.O.S.), debated with the help of the theses they brought themselves about the education of the Radboud University and everything related to it.

Debate 1: Food at Radboud University should be inclusive for all dietary wishes (V.O.S.)

Iris Nieborg (V.O.S.)

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘We support sustainability, but we also believe we need to achieve it step by step. No student should be left behind, that’s why all food on campus should be inclusive, whether you want to eat halal, kosher, anything. Everything should be possible, as long as people can get healthy food. Inclusivity needs to come first.

Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+): ‘We agree that food should always be inclusive, as inclusivity is one of our core values. However, one of our other main points is sustainability. A plant-based campus is part of that. It should be done step by step, but these steps of the university should be more ambitious. Only 78% of the food on campus is plant-based, that should be more. Of course we realise that it still needs to be affordable, as the actions would be senseless otherwise.’

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘This financial aspect is crucial, because there is a risk the food will get too expensive. It will be too expensive for de Refter to produce, and for students to buy the food. This might scare them away.’

De Kooter (Knokpartij): ‘It is an interesting assumption that inclusivity means that everyone should be able to eat meat. For vegans meat is not an option, but meat eaters can still eat vegan food. Nevertheless, I believe everyone should decide for themselves.’ 

Debate 2: The power at the university should be transferred from the unelected governing bodies to the democratically elected councils of students and workers (Knokpartij)

Koen de Kooter (Knokpartij)

De Kooter (Knokpartij): ‘This thesis will touch the fundamental differences between the parties. I believe that a lot of the proposals here are simply fighting symptoms. Fighting symptoms of deeper lying issues, issues that will infinitely replicate these symptoms if we don’t change the structures behind it. We have a huge problem of social unsafety on campus, because students aren’t being heard. One example of this problem is when a fascist group was allowed to run a stand at the introduction market. The only way to stop this, and other forms of racism, sexism and capitalism is to radically democratize. That means: university-wide referendums, expanding the power of participation councils and more recognition for the people in these councils.’

Stevens (AKKU): ‘Democratization is an important topic for us as well, and I believe we agree to a certain extent. Problems should indeed be solved in a more democratic manner. However, this debate is about the university student council elections, and this radical democratization is not a job for the USC. This is something you want to insert on a national level. That is why AKKU has ties with the national student Union ( LSVb, red.). Also, I don’t know of any accomplishments on this of Knokpartij these last years. I’m curious about that, because we have made concrete steps. One of our goals to improve democratization is to change the vote distribution in the faculty councils. We want it to be equal among students and staff, rather than the current unequal divide of 40% for staff and 60% for students.’ 

De Kooter (Knokpartij): ‘Our position in this connects to our view on the USC. You’ve pointed out that this is not a USC-issue, which is exactly the problem. From our perspective, the USC is a platform for students to let their voices be heard in every possible way, but it should not stop there. The USC should mobilize people on campus as well. I recognize that this is a national, even an international problem, but our terrain of struggle is the Radboud University.’

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘We agree with AKKU that democratization would be great, but difficult to achieve. V.O.S. is an umbrella-organization for sports-, study- and other student associations and we receive tons of information from them. That is why we can represent them and therefore raise the democratic degree of the USC. Last year, only 14% of the students voted, showing how tough it is to get people involved.’ 

Heymer (ISEC): ‘ISEC stands for “inclusion and social equity commission”, so our ideal is to make every voice heard. We want to fight for minorities and therefore we need to have the USC be more visible. What are we here for in the USC? We need to collaborate more and dig deeper into the actual opinions of students. When we connect more with them, it would not be difficult to find out what students believe in.’ 

Debate 3: Radboud University should implement a central policy requiring all lectures to be posted and mandatory attendance exceptions to be made for students working part-time jobs. (ISEC)

Emily Heymer (ISEC)

Heymer (ISEC): ‘During COVID we had livestreams, and lectures were uploaded to Brightspace. However, after the pandemic faculties partially or fully stopped this policy. As a party with inclusivity as our main priority, we acknowledge that there are students with different financial or social backgrounds. The university has to embrace these facts and thus we have to make access to study materials easier. Because of this and other facts, we are dealing with a situation in which people from backgrounds with less financial possibilities are unable to finish their study without high debts. For that reason, it is crucial that lectures will be online available as well.’

De Kooter (Knokpartij): ‘I want to add that we think the university has to be open for all. So, everyone should have the option to join university, even if you do not have a scientific secondary education. Furthermore, recordings of lectures should be available for everyone and not only for Radboud students. Whoever you are, you should have access to the advantages of our education. We should not isolate ourselves and only serve people who have the money to pay the high price of the Radboud education.’

Heymer (ISEC): ‘Sadly that is not possible, because a lot of data is protected. But the ideal is surely admirable.’

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘We are a big fan of flexible studying. That’s why, in our opinion, lectures should be uploaded online. We are busy advocating for this, to ensure that all kinds of students, such as those who do a board year, a double bachelor’s or sports at a high level, can receive their education. But we also want to maintain a vibrant campus. A place students want to come to.Therefore, it is risky to make all lectures online available.’

Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+): ‘We strongly agree that a lively campus is important. However, lectures are not the only things happening. There is a lot more, such as workshops. We must be vigilant that those activities do not disappear.’ 

Debate 4 : There should be zero tolerance for power abuse against students. (AKKU)

Louise Stevens (AKKU)

Stevens (AKKU): ‘There have been many cases where staff members have shown transgressive behaviour. The university puts them on non-active, but they still get paid or even offered another job in the university. We think there’s a dire need for more concrete steps to be taken. We need a stricter approach and especially more transparency. We want to change the approach the university currently has: right now somebody needs to be proven guilty before the victim is offered help. We believe those two things need to be separated. Victim support must always come first.’

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘We fully agree that transgressive behaviour is never acceptable. We would like to add that V.O.S. organizes a lot of social safety trainings, to ensure that this behaviour doesn’t happen in lower levels. And if it does happen, we teach people where they need to go for help. What we need from the university is the financial support to enable us to give those trainings to student associations.’ 

De Kooter (Knokpartij): ‘I’ve said this before, but I think the problem will keep replicating itself if  you don’t change the fundamental structure behind it. One of the reasons for the continuation of the problem is the hierarchical structure of the university. There is an uneven power balance between students and teachers. We support a new way of setting up the curriculum, in which students and staff set this up themselves. You’ll see that the gap between them will close, students will feel more involved and relations with the staff will improve.’ 

Heymer (ISEC): ‘How will this change the hierarchy? The uneven power balance remains. What we propose is to increase the number of student psychologists. They can act as the mediator, to help find a better relationship between the two.’  

Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+): ‘We would like to add that the student psychologist can prevent the abuse from happening, so we agree that we need more student psychologists.  We have the plan of having mandatory trainings for everyone, both staff and students. If you’re trained, it’s easier to cut the problem at the root.’ 

Debate 5: University staff and student organizations should be firmly discouraged from flying. (Green+)

María Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+)

Gutiérrez Fuentesal (Green+): ‘One of our main values is sustainability, so this is important for us. Currently, flights for staff are reimbursed by the university if the trip by car or public transport would take more than seven hours. We believe that this limit should be raised to fourteen hours, to prevent the high impact of flying on the environment. Furthermore, we think that student associations shouldn’t be funded for trips unless it’s within the European Union. Of course there should be exceptions for studies as American Studies, who need to go to the USA, but within a close distance flights shouldn’t be funded. 

Neymer (ISEC): ‘Yes, sustainability is important. But we do have concerns about the inclusivity. Public transport is relatively expensive, sometimes it may cost even twice as much as flying. That would mean that some students would not be able to travel where they want to go. What we want is that the university offers a program to match students to travel together by car. This has the added benefits of meeting new people and increasing communication.’ 

Nieborg (V.O.S.): ‘I would like to add that there is a subsidy for student associations if they travel sustainably. This could be something that should become available for all students.’ 

Voting for the University student council is, just like voting for other participation councils, possible until May 29. Inform yourself and vote at ru.digitaleverkiezingen.nl!

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