This past year, Roeland Voorbergen (20) served as chair of the Central Student Council (CSR), the council that represents the interests of all University of Amsterdam (UvA) students. This academic year, Pjotr van der Jagt (21) will be taking over from him. How does Roeland feel about at the past year? What does Pjotr hope to achieve in the coming year? Does Roeland have any advice for Pjotr?
Roeland, how do you feel about this past year?
This year was one of the most intense years of my life. It’s been a remarkable experience to have represented the interests of over 30,000 UvA students together with this group of 14 other students.
I enjoyed it a great deal, but it wasn’t always easy. Some days you’ll have meeting upon meeting, and you’re constantly surrounded by people who are often at least twice your age. At some point, you stop feeling like a student, and I started to miss that feeling more and more. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a second of it all, but after a year’s hard work, I’m now happy to step aside.
Why is it that it’s not always easy?
From day one, you’re expected to have an opinion on everything, even things that you don’t quite understand. You have a lot of information to process in a very short amount of time, and base your opinion on that.
And that’s just the first step. After that, you’ll have to make sure that people who have worked in the academic world for quite a while now and have more experience than you do are willing to listen to your opinion. So you do have to build your confidence to feel comfortable joining in every discussion.
Did you manage all right in the end?
The Executive Board is very willing to listen to student input and feedback, and there is plenty of room to influence new policy. What’s tricky, though, is that the UvA is quite a big organisation. If you really want to make a change or put new topics on the agenda, you’ll have to convince more than just the Board.
Take the topic of sustainability, for example. We are currently hard at work on a great, UvA-wide vision, but we are definitely not the first CSR to work on it. It can take a while for new initiatives to really catch on.
What are you proud of?
I’m especially proud of the fact that the Council has matured so much in such a short time. We are now able to actually contribute to conversations on difficult issues. Yes, I’m quite proud of that. As far as a more concrete example, I’m proud of the extra week’s holiday in May that is currently in the works. It’s a step that we hope can help lower the high workload students have to face.
Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?
It’s never really enough, of course. Especially now, at the end of my time as chair, I still see new opportunities or things that we didn’t manage to tackle. That’s unfortunate, but when I look at everything we did achieve, I’m still very happy.
Do you have any advice for your successor?
Do not underestimate yourself! If we have wasted any opportunities, it’s most likely because we were not 100% convinced that we were right. The other parties in any given discussion may have more experience, but they don’t necessarily know all the ins and outs of the matter at hand. The student council has a legal basis to exert its influence. Be sure to use it and always trust your own insights.
Do you trust your own insights, Pjotr?
You don’t start a year in the Council when you don’t have any ideas with regards to the University. Of course I sometimes doubt my personal expertise, but having less experience doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to an opinion.
I’ve been talking to Roeland quite a bit lately, and I have taken his advice to heart. I think we’re quite alike, he and I. We both tend to speak rather calmly, but when push comes to shove, we know how to pursue our goals.
Are you and the Council going to manage forming an opinion about everything?
I have a great deal of faith in my Council. We are a very diverse group, with differing opinions at times, but I think that is a good thing.
I hope, and I expect, that our diversity will lead to wonderful and valuable insights. At the very least, we are all willing to listen to one another. That is a very strong foundation to have.
How does the Council intend to proceed this coming year?
Mostly we intend to work hard, put in the hours and do proper research. As long as we make sure our plans are well thought-out and properly substantiated, we can surely make a worthy contribution. I am 100 per cent convinced of that.
What does your perfect university look like?
To me, a university is a place that offers high-level education and research – one that makes everyone feel welcome and gives everyone plenty of room to grow.
And is the official language of that university Dutch or English?
Both. Dutch is the basis, but it’s important that your academic English is up to par, especially after the Bachelor’s phase. I don’t feel that English-language Master’s programmes necessarily need a Dutch-language equivalent. Unless it’s a language programme, of course. A Master’s in Dutch should be given in Dutch.
If you were to walk in Geert ten Dam’s shoes for one day, what would you do?
Most importantly, I would want to take some further strides with regards to sustainability. Maybe not by working on major policy documents, but simply by leading by example for a day.
Sustainability policy is quite odd anyway. If everyone were aware of the importance of having a sustainable university, rules might not even be necessary. It should be awareness that leads to policy anyway, not the other way around. That way, people will be much more easily swayed.