By Klementina Ristovska
Seventh semester compensation covering part of the college fees is currently available to UCSA Board members. Should future ASC members be entitled to the same advantage? If so, who pays the money? The current ASC and UCSA Board stand on opposite sides on this issue. What are their arguments?
Few of us realize that the decision to run for a position in one of our two representative bodies depends on more than just the motivation to work towards improving campus life and academics. Leadership experience, CV boost and networking opportunities are among the expected benefits that certainly cross candidates’ minds too, but something else has to be factored in: the seventh semester. More specifically, can they pay for the potential prolongation of their UCU studies?
Currently, ASC and UCSA Board members are eligible for a two-course reduction per semester, which for most of them means graduating a semester later. This costs money. The amount (when living on-campus) can range from approximately €5,440 to €9,200, the latter if you happen to pay the non-EU fees.
As installed in a GA resolution, UCSA Board members who need to take a seventh semester due to their service on the board receive an accessibility subsidy covering 50% of the Dutch tuition fees. This money is drawn from the UCSA budget. “The amount varies every year […] but it is approximately €900 per board member. This is only partial and members still have to pay the room and board and other expanses,” UCSA Treasurer Nina de Gruijter said.
When it comes to ASC members, similar financial compensation is currently not in place. ASC members who need to extend their studies with one extra semester are expected to pay the fees in full.
For several months now, ASC ’12-’13 has been negotiating the possibility for securing seventh semester compensation for future ASC members too. It may sound fair that members of ASC, our direct representatives in College Hall decision-making, receive equal treatment as the Board in charge of a smooth-running campus life, but there is more to it: where should the money come from?
ASC ’12-’13 proposes an extension of the UCSA budget’s accessibility subsidy to future ASC members with the same amount that is currently available to UCSA Board members. According to ASC Chair Pau Castellví Canet, they have drafted a proposal and presented it to the UCSA Board demanding the issue to be put to vote during a GA.
“We faced the dilemma of which budget stream to request the amount from: the academic budget or the budget of UCU’s student association,” Student Assessor Rens Bakker said. “We have been working on this for months and on the basis of our investigation we decided that we want to consult the GA about it.”
The UCSA Board, on the other hand, is reluctant to give away a chunk of the association’s budget before “all other possibilities”, including College Hall, have been exhausted. They have decided not to bring this to the GA in the form of a formal proposal subjected to a yes-or-no vote, which would result in a binding GA resolution.
“The UCSA Board simply does not believe in the proposal. There are mainly two ways of bringing an issue to the GA: either via the Board or by gathering 70 signatures. Because we do not believe in this proposal we will not suggest it to the GA,” UCSA Chair Noam Auerbach said. “We are not against a seventh semester compensation for future ASC members. The other way around: we greatly appreciate the work this ASC has done on it. We are just not agreeing that the money should come from the UCSA budget.”
What are the arguments?
“As student representatives it would strengthen our position to receive such endorsements from the student body through the Association, as the UCSA Board does,” Bakker said. “The UCSA Board has specific conditions of what exactly we need to discuss with CH first in order to bring it to the GA. But looking at the formal relationship between ASC and UCSA, we think it is clear that ASC can bring points to the GA without very strict conditions.”
The UCSA Board gives four main reasons why they oppose ASC’s proposal to be put to popular vote at this point. “First, ASC and the UCSA are two separate bodies. They both represent the students but in separate ways. The reforms that took place two years ago were aiming to make them stand separate and equal. Therefore, the UCSA should not sponsor them,” Auerbach said.
They also stress that the amount of money in question will pose a big burden for the UCSA budget. “It is a big amount and it will hurt the association,” Auerbach said.
More important, according to UCSA Secretary Valeria Boers Trilles, is the fact that not enough has been negotiated with College Hall. “College Hall has not rejected paying for ASC’s seventh semester. They just need more details and they are willing to discuss it.” Auerbach added: “To bring it now to the GA is simply premature. What if the GA says no? How can they [ASC] go to CH afterwards?”
Finally, Auerbach brings up another point. “It’s a bit painful, but someone must say it: Who said that ASC members have to take an extra semester? What CH proposes, and we support as well, is that there should be an assessment of the workload.” He explains that unlike for UCSA Board members, it is not formally laid down that all ASC members should take a two-course reduction. “They [relevant CH staff] don’t mind ASC to have less courses, but in order to pay for that, they first want to have a true, open, honest discussion and an assessment process.”
“The management has never questioned whether ASC has enough work for 30 hours per member per week, or whether ASC deserves a seventh semester for the work it does,” Castellví Canet said. “We work very closely with them and our work is very visible to them.”
He explains that the discussion with CH was focused on the nature of ASC’s task and whether ASC should be the body that carries out these tasks. “As an essential part of UCU’s quality management cycle required by law, ASC does many of the things on a daily basis that would otherwise need to be done by faculty members and staff. We strongly believe that an independent student body as part of UCU’s quality management cycle is better than the alternative, in which the student opinion would not be represented independently.
ASC’s main motivation for this step was the decline in interest among students to join ASC. “We’ve seen over the past years that it has been very hard to find candidates. Many decide not to run because of the financial burden of taking a seventh semester. I can’t blame them, especially now with the increase in fees and changes with Studiefinanciering. In the future, this may pose a serious limitation for the quality of student representation,” Castellví Canet said.
On this, Auerbach says that “people here don’t run because there is compensation available or not. People run because they want to be involved in a specific way. […] We just saw not long ago that there were more candidates running for ASC than for the UCSA Board.”
“This year we really invested a lot of effort in finding candidates,” Bakker said. “We started searching for people already a month in advance. We talked to so many people and fortunately we were successful. We had proper competition for two out of three positions now.”
Bakker brings up another point. “We have seen in ASC that continuity is crucial. Almost all of ASC’s power depends on informal relationships that take years to grow. If one Board doesn’t do the job in CH well, everything collapses. Everything has to be started all over again.”
It seems that in the core of this “professional dispute”, as Auerbach dubbed it, lies the difference in interests that the two bodies defend. “In times of financial challenges for UCU, we did not believe it to be the most responsible option to demand the amount from the academic budget, which covers courses, teachers, tutors, etc.,” Bakker said. Reversely, Boers Trilles warns that should the money be drawn from the UCSA budget “it will simply mean less DebataCo, less festival, less Bartenders Weekend, less PoliticsCo, less everything.”
The UCSA Board stresses that they wish to continue the negotiations in the most constructive way. ASC said they will bring the proposal to a GA in the coming weeks, so the student body can have the final vote.
The GA will take place in the Auditorium on Monday, the 6th of May, from 19:30 onward.