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Comment: Yes... we... actually did

Danish student and student council activist Mads Damgaard is now on exchange in Rio de Janeiro. But that does not keep him from calling on his fellow Copenhagen students to vote in the uni election now

Looking back at the past year of university politics, I feel proud. And even though the average student, international or local, may not know the first thing about the inner machinations of rectoral prerogatives and faculty lobbyism at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the case could be made that this average student have just cause for feeling proud as well!

Like the sense of hope during the first election of American President Barack Obama, there was, amongst the students engaged in student and university politics at UCPH, a certain gut-feeling that 2012 might be the year for some changes. Perhaps ‘Yes, we can’ wasn’t exactly the slogan, but nonetheless, looking back at the last university elections, there certainly was a general ambience of expectancy.

Now, you might ask, how does this hope and the aforementioned pride connect? I’ll tell you.

Student’s Council: Delivering Promises

The slogan of the Student’s Council has for some time been, literally, ‘Improving the university together’. For a somewhat longer time-span, universities of Denmark, especially UCPH, have been subject to a range of budget cuts, layoffs, and general pessimism about the economic future. Well, the future is here now, and the promise of improvements actually resulted in several great results – results that everybody who voted before or engaged in discussions should feel proud of:

In particular, the Rector has acknowledged the need for a minimum quantity of real, tangible lectures. University shouldn’t be one big spring break, and enrolled students should rightfully expect to be engaged – physically present and mentally activated – in their studies. A lot more than some, especially at the Humanities, are right now. The Student’s Council has been clear on this issue for some time, and the pressure levied against directors and deans has resulted in a new ‘floor’, a minimum of 12 hour’s worth of lectures for every week of the semester at the graduate level.

Starting this fall, this minimum will hopefully ensure better and more in-depth courses, a feeling of belonging rather than loose association with the university, more opportunities for discussing and engaging the curriculum – the synergy of co-presence, rather than the solipsistic energy of sporadic encounters with the faculty. As one of the students who contributed heavily to pushing for this change, I feel proud that the university directors and board finally acknowledged the need for radical improvements along these lines.

Together – a keyword for democacy

This is where I’d like to bring the average student back in. Just by voting, asserting that the active students of the Student’s Council have a representative democratic right to put pressure on university managers, you too (that is, if you’re a student!) can push for the achieving of essential, educational goals – such as an adequate amount of actual teaching. There are many other goals worth fighting for, such as the on-campus work ambience, housing situation, and relations of curriculae to actual, contemporary research. These are also issues that has been adressed and improved through the action of students partaking in the councils and boards across the university – and their voice has been legitimized, however intermittently, by the voting as well as more active participation of the mass of students that constitute a very central part of the university.

For this week’s election, I have another hope: And that is that the voting will surge, thus providing more arguments for the involvement of student stakeholders. I also hope that the political results of 2012, which was achieved through a lot of hard work, a government friendly to the superior education system, and some democratic-minded staff and managers, will prove that the way to go for university is indeed this – governing together, feeding the interest and debate throughout the echelons and organization ladders, and especially with the active participation of the stuff that education is made of: Eager minds, wanting to learn, to voice their ideas and to be heard.

The student politics and results delivered last year made me proud. A student voter turn-out surpassing that of last year will make me even proud, and even though the University Board only has 2 seats assigned to students, and half the amount of students seats relative to professors on the Academic Boards, every vote will prove that these seats are backed by students intent on learning, improving and debating. Together, we’ll improve university democracy and management. To any skeptics out there, who mayhaps missed the improvements of 2012, I just want to add: Yes, we can!

Mads Damgaard.

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