Autumn. The most exciting time in the yearly schedule of those active in student organisations, a time when one cannot help but turn their gaze towards the coming year. A time for preparing plans of work, making your own plans, and eagerly awaiting all elections.
It’s the same for us. The Board’s draft proposals for General Assembly documents have been accepted, and they are now being polished with student unions, while we use the energy from our summer vacation to press on with our regular work all through autumn.
Autumn within organisations and student unions seemingly contains two parallel realities. The other reality does not depart much from spring: working on the plan of work, holding meetings, preparing this and that. Meetings run like normal, coffee breaks are full of laughter. Meanwhile in the other reality, representatives are coming to terms with their time as a representative coming to an end, awaiting nervously the election of their successor, and planning their own future.
This holds true for me as well. I don’t know what next year will bring, so I choose to focus on my work in the here and now. Three years of working full time in the student movement is a fairly long time away from studies, but the lecture rooms are probably still where they used to be.
Nearly every student union has its representative council election this autumn. Many people are running, from first-year students to veterans, from political to non-aligned candidates. This is essential for democracy and decision-making, and I do hope that each election brings us more and more diversity – perhaps that way, the pool of all students becomes more diverse as well.
Every election is also a reminder of the fact that the university student movement is alive and well. The pandemic has driven us further apart than ever before. My heart goes out to everyone who has been putting together lists of candidates. I know from experience that putting together lists is an arduous task even in normal times, not to mention the fact that the sleeves of potential candidates have not exactly been available for tugging in the corridors.
I have to admit that even before the pandemic, I was growing worried about the future number of active students in the student movement. The extremely tight education and social policies have driven students into a situation where finding time for organisational activities might be practically impossible, let alone taking a gap year from studies to take part in activities full-time. The effects of austerity politics can already be seen in the drastic decrease in students going on exchange programmes.
I have heard many others fret about there simply not being enough time to sign up for board duties in addition to studying and working. It is essential to prioritise well-being, I’m not downplaying that. However, on a societal level, it is also sad. You learn so incredibly much in organisational and volunteer work that you cannot learn during any lecture.
In our statement last summer, we wished for flexibility regarding the duration of studies. I still stand by the basic idea: students must be allowed to wander about, get a taste of life, and learn things outside of lecture rooms. To grow into active citizens, as defined by the educational mission of universities.
Everyone must be guaranteed this chance, not just those who get by with their wallets after the financial aid months have run out or who do not need to work while studying. We need people from diverse backgrounds to become tutors, board members, and representatives, instead of letting those decide who have the money and the energy for such a hobby. All it would take is some humane Government policies.
Surely that’s not too much to ask.