Representative bodies have struggled to get students to vote for years. Furthermore, they are having a hard time finding enough candidates to fill up all the councillors’ positions, which is why Erasmus University cancelled its elections altogether this year. The council even conducted an experiment involving university-wide elections rather than faculty-specific elections, to raise its profile. However, it was all in vain, as too few candidates stood for the elections. Only ten students applied for the twelve positions available on the council.
As before, Tilburg University had the largest turnout, but even there, turnout is decreasing (41.8 per cent, down from 45.7 per cent). The four universities of technology scored relatively well, with over one third of their students casting their ballots. However, the turnout percentage is dropping even there.
It is remarkable that so few students are interested in serving on the university council, since representative bodies play an increasingly prominent part in the way universities are run. In the last few years, university councils have been granted greater responsibility, decision-making powers and authority. In 2018 an agreement was signed stipulating that representative bodies and university governors must decide together how to spend the millions of euros that became available when student grants were abolished – funds that must be allocated by universities and universities of applied sciences to measures designed to improve their degree programmes.
Lack of knowledge
So why do so few students bother to vote? Some representative bodies in Utrecht suggested that this year’s low turnout was due to the fact that the elections were held during the exam period. According to the president of the polling station at Eindhoven University of Technology, where the elections were held in December, turnout is always a little lower in years in which ballots can only be cast for student representatives. For its part, Tilburg University pointed out that student numbers have grown at its university, so in absolute terms, there has actually been an increase in voter turnout.
It is clear that representatives must be in close touch with their voters, but this leaves a little to be desired. “During the elections, I sometimes spent ten minutes explaining to students what exactly the university council does. We wouldn’t even discuss our programme until after that,” the top candidate for the UniversiteitsPartij told Advalvas.
LSVb (the National Student Union) feels that a lack of knowledge is a major reason why students do not vote. A recent survey conducted by HOP showed that much information is hidden on websites that can only be accessed by people who have the right log-in data. The same thing is true for universities of applied sciences. It is not hard to find information on representative bodies on universities’ websites.