Por: Emilia M.
When I was in high school, little did I know about politics or the way in which they could work within an educational context. However, when I entered UBA (Buenos Aires University), I discovered a completely new world. In it, students managed to create a space in which they could defend and express themselves. Although FUBA (University of Buenos Aires Students’ Federation) is related nowadays with political parties and government issues, it was originally designed to fight for the recognition of students rights, among other things, which I found extremely interesting and useful. However, when I decided to change my course of studies I chose an institute of further education (IESLV), and much to my surprise, there was no student participation whatsoever. The contrast was so big that I began wondering why this was so.
After many weeks of thinking and researching, I came to the conclusion that the creation of a Students’ Union would benefit not only students but it would also play a huge role in helping and, at the same time, keep an eye on the main authorities of this institution. Would not be ideal to have the means to create a centre that could provide the answers to the frequently asked questions like, entrance examination requirements, enrolment, course requirements, credit transfer, classes, schedules, required paperwork, etc? Therefore, being this one key issue to make the IESLV’s experience easier, I could not help but wonder why students are not motivated enough to try and make a difference?
I figured that the best way to begin answering those questions was to mingle with the student body to know what their opinions were, and try to understand why this lack of commitment existed in order to provide a suitable solution.
Jennifer W., a 21-year-old student who has clear political views and is ready to voice them, believes that it would be beneficial for all of us if there were a Students’ Union that could provide support to all freshmen students. “It seems like we do not have a say in anything. However, I think that the main reason why students do not want to take full responsibility and participate, and I am including myself in this, is laziness.
‘Besides, full-time students prefer to refrain from participating because they lack the time and information. It would be great to be aware from the start, at least, that there are people involved in defending students’ rights and working to provide a better educational context for us all. This would give us the opportunity to choose whether we want to participate or not. I suggest those who make up the student board should approach freshmen and juniors through talks or via e-mails. In short, there is a huge lack of information regarding everything concerning this institution –schedules, paperwork, authorities, etc.-, so it would not hurt if seniors gave us a hand if any of us has doubts, especially when Bedelía cannot impart us with that kind of information.”
Julia C., another student, pointed out that she agreed with Jennifer W., but added that, instead of criticizing Bedelía as most students do, she suggested a couple of ideas that are feasible. On the one hand, she proposes to create an office or a department that would lighten Bedelía’s work and assist the students’ administrative or specific queries regarding their majors, for instance credit transfer, professors’ profiles, schedules, regulations, scholarships, etc. In addition, it would be ideal to have qualified employees, who know all the tricks and regulations concerning the institution, working there in case students want to make a complaint against teachers or simply fight against injustices. On the other hand, it is true that with an efficient and strong union, students could fight harder in order to change things we feel are missing, like heating, classroom supplies, etc.”
Laura F., a 32-year-old student added, “I personally believe it is of major importance to create a Students’ Union because, along the way, we tend to come up with inquiries and realize which things are the ones we would like to change within the institution. The thing is that for either of them, it is almost impossible to achieve them. What I mean by this is that you may present a formal letter to the authorities and it would not make any difference, but if it had the support of a strong union instead, it would be much easier for problems to be fixed.”
It is clear that there are many students clamouring for the existence of a Students’ Union. Apart from giving them a physical space where students could ask not only administrative and institutional matters, they could also be motivated to help. Moreover, it would take a huge weight off Bedelía’s employees and maybe make the bureaucracy easygoing and approachable. Another reason why this would be ideal is that the information required regarding exams, enrolment, courses, scholarships, exchange programs, etc. would be centralized in one place. This would not only help senior students but, above all, freshmen, who seem to be at a loss when beginning their course of studies.
Once freshmen pass the entrance exam, they are given a guide, which is not clear, updated or even completed, intended to give all the necessary information regarding the major itself and the institute’s regulations, including students’ rights and responsibilities. Consequently, one thing that would prevent freshmen students from being at a total lost would be to receive a complete Students’ Guide written by other students, and this should be done by the Students’ Union.
In addition, the Students’ Guide advises students to be well-informed when it comes to the Reglamento Orgánico, the Dean and Board’s decisions, the major and subjects’ curricula and the internal regulations, to participate in the activities organized by the Students’ Union, to vote for a student representative, to know who the candidates are and to participate in their election to attend the Board’s meetings; to participate in extra curricular activities and encourage others to do so, to take tutorials (of any subject), etc. Of course, those things previously mentioned are not fulfilled at all. To begin with, the Students’ Union should be in charge of informing the student body about the decision-making process or any important update of any sort – for example, supposedly, the Board must meet once a month in public hearings, does anybody know where they are held? –. One of the Student’s Union’s responsibilities would be to create a website and to designate people who would only be in charge of updating and improving the site.
Another thing students are told when they enter their major is that they must participate in the elections and vote for the Board’s members and for the Students’ Council in order to be able to sit for finals. Ironically, in the voting booth, students face the problem of having no other choice but to choose from the only list meaning that they are obliged to vote democratically in an undemocratic way. Although saying that there is a shortage of people to fill two electoral lists is a perfectly valid reason, one of the main responsibilities of the Students’ Union would be to work on a campaign where students and teachers can be highly motivated to get involved, and as a consequence be able to recruit enough people to build at least two “political” parties. Meanwhile, elections should be optional and they must not interfere with the course of studies.
However, reality hits us when we realize that, for this dream to come true, many people are needed. Unfortunately, students at IESLV do not have enough time to spend working for free. According to senior and graduate students, they tried to make up a student body (ProCET) in 2004/5, but the project failed because of several reasons: the lack of people who wanted to participate in it, the lack of experience of the few people who stayed working, and above all, because of the low budget that they had access to. In spite of everything, they wanted to create a Students’ Union that would differ completely from the one at UBA. They did not want to be politicized or to make a profession out of this educational activity. They had little success due to the fact that they could not gather enough people to help them to organize it and the few people who still wanted to make it work remained lost their willingness to do it. With this in mind, we do not have to forget that it is a public institution, which means that the amount of paper work makes everything 400% slower. However, and against all odds, those senior students managed to create a website, a students’ forum where students can interact with other students and share experiences, and a professor’s profile forum where students can give their opinions about the subjects they took; all of them are still available today.
To conclude, I believe that it is of utmost importance to create a Students’ Union in order to help students get the most of their academic experience. Therefore, the union should work with the authorities and not against them, giving students the opportunity to participate and make sure everything works correctly. Apart from that, an interesting chore would be for the Students’ Union to organize a cultural agenda with events that would enrich all the language departments, and complementary workshops and tutorials.
Unlike the people in charge of writing the guide nowadays, that apparently are not aware that there is no such a thing as a Students’ Union or do not have a clear knowledge of who are the students’ representatives, I strongly believe that the Students’ Guide must be rewritten by the Students’ Union and it must include the institutional information that it has plus a section with the names, offices, e-mails and timetables of the authorities and the students’ representatives – like a “Who is who in IESLV?”, so that they know who to turn to in case they need anything. Besides, the Students’ Union could also tackle the low budget issue by organizing events to help raise money in order to invest it in, for instance, creating an efficient website in which students could, in addition, enrol online in the main courses or in the finals. I am in the quest of stimulating the participation and creative skills of the whole student body. I know there is a lot that has to be done, but if we are patient and perseverant, there is no doubt we can reach our goals.