Each year, only between 7 and 15 percent of students that are eligible to vote for the University Council, do so. The University Council is the highest representative body of the university and the most important place for students and employees to debate the EUR’s policies. The EUR’s turnout is the lowest of any university in the Netherlands. For years, the Council tried to increase awareness among students through workshops, drinks parties and activities, but these attempts always failed.
Unique electoral system
At the moment, the EUR is the only university in the Netherlands with a decentralised electoral system, which means that the employees and students cannot all vote together; they have to vote per faculty or department. The upside of this system is that each faculty (and department) is guaranteed to be represented in the Council. The downsides of the decentralised system are its lack of university-wide campaigns in advance of the elections (which means that the campaign remains largely invisible), and that not all faculties always require elections. If the number of candidates does not exceed the number of seats for that faculty, no elections need to be held.
As the new system does include university-wide elections, an RSM student could, for instance, campaign at the Erasmus School of Law or vice versa. This decreases the changes of unelected students getting into the Council.
No more free seat
Student Jordie van der Burgt was one of two candidates who applied for one of the two Council seats reserved for the Rotterdam School of Management. He therefore didn’t have to get elected to be certain of getting a seat. He still doesn’t feel happy about this. “You want to be able to represent people, but are stuck with the terrible feeling that nobody was able to vote for you. So, who are you really representing then?” As Van der Burgt did not have to campaign, the University Council has possibly slipped even further into obscurity at the RSM, and it might be even more difficult to find enough candidates next year. “I am really happy that the system is going to change now. It has taken six years, but that was mainly because people were fearful that adopting a different system might have adverse effects. But I think you should at least give it a go.”
Executive Board not in favour of parties
The University Council of the Erasmus University is the only of its kind that does not have a party system. In its public meetings, the student representatives and employee representatives generally speak with one voice, so there is not a lot of public debate between members. The desire to allow for parties was there within the Council, but the new system does not include any provisions for party formation: the Executive Board is not in favour of those. Obviously, anyone is free to establish a party, but it won’t provide any real advantages at elections. It is, for instance, not possible to work with a list that would allow votes for the party leader to automatically be transferred to lower-ranking candidates.
Certain Council members are worried that the new system will preclude small faculties from being represented, as it will be easier to canvass successfully at the large faculties. A ‘buddy system’, through which University Council members have intensive contact with faculty members, should prevent the Council from overlooking the interests of small faculties.
The new system is going to be tested for two years. If it yields the desired results, it will be implemented permanently, possibly also for the employee part of the Council. A working group will be establishing criteria that will decide whether the pilot is a success.