Why are internal elections also important for students?

(11-03-2020) Internal elections will be held at our university this spring. Not only the assistants (AAP), but also the students can elect new representatives within the Board of Directors, Social Council and faculty councils.

But why are these elections also important for students? We asked Wout Vierbergen, vice-chairman of the Ghent Student Council.

What exactly is the role of the Board of Directors, Social Board and faculty boards?

Wout Vierbergen: “All decisions concerning Ghent University are made in those councils. From appointing professors, approving new courses to setting the prices of the restaurant meals, ...There is a council or commission to be found for almost everything within Ghent University."

In the past, what did students achieve in these councils?

Wout Vierbergen: "Where to start? It ranges from small to massive accomplishments, and everything in between. More sustainable meals in the restaurants, lecture recordings, cheaper Wi-Fi in the homes, ensuring that Ghent University invests sustainably, Cultour tickets, catch-up exams, the intersemester week, ... All of these things were accomplished by student representatives in the past."

Why should students apply as candidates?

Wout Vierbergen: "It is incredibly important that the students' views are included in the discussions held in all these councils and committees. As a student, it allows you to truly influence Ghent University’s policy and defend the interests of your fellow students. Moreover, you learn a lot as a student representative, you meet plenty of interesting people and new friends and it is highly fascinating to get to know Ghent University from the inside."

Isn't it frightening to be part of such an official council as a student?

Wout Vierbergen: “At first it surely is. All of a sudden you’re sitting next to professors, directors or the rector in a meeting. Fortunately, it’s usually nothing more than a case of cold feet and you quickly realise that they are human beings too. You also rapidly notice that they do not always find it easy to put themselves in the students’ shoes, which means that our vision is usually appreciated."

Do you have special privileges if you are elected as a student representative?

Wout Vierbergen: "Above all, you have the privilege of gaining plenty of extracurricular experience. You will learn how to hold high-level meetings, how to present, how to deal with large files and how to act diplomatically. This is certainly a privilege to experience. In order to be able to combine this with the (compulsory) courses, student representatives are given a special status, so docents immediately know that you have a valid reason for not attending the course."

As a candidate you can count on the support of the Ghent Student Council. What do you offer exactly?

Wout Vierbergen: "As the Ghent Student Council, we are almost literally on stand-by 24/7 to support student representatives in various ways. We enthusiastically answer all their questions about the elections, give them tips and tricks and provide them with all the necessary information about the various files and topics. In the run-up to the elections, we will also organise training days on 5 and 25 March and we provide a budget for each candidate with which they can campaign. But even after the elections, every student representative can continue to count on the support of the Ghent Student Council and everyone is always welcome in our quarters."

If I'm not a candidate, why should I, as a student, definitely cast my vote in these elections?

Wout Vierbergen: "What student representatives do or who they are is often overlooked, but that doesn't mean they don't matter. They can really make a difference. I can be very irritated by elected student representatives who don't commit themselves when push comes to shove. So, it really is in the best interest of every student that we are represented properly. Make sure to go for students who will actually use their vote and will do all they can to represent you as well.”

Do you want to know when you can stand as a candidate, when you can vote or do you have any other questions about the internal elections? Check out the official Ghent University Elects website or participate in the online training day of the Ghent Student Council on 25 March.