Picture: Photo collage by the HSRW Student Parliament
by Tim Schirmer
“We made some great first steps but that is not enough yet. It is up to the next StuPa to determine what will be the main topics.”
In light of the upcoming Student Body Elections, Catcher on the Rhein interviewed Sebastian Ege, the parting President of the Student Parliament (StuPa), about the challenges that came with the pandemic, the importance of having a StuPa at our university, and social issues of our time.
Sebastian, why are you interested in university politics?
When I came to this university I did not participate in a lot of things and I regretted it because I saw that the university has a core community that helps each other out, organizes events, and does all those great things. I wanted to be a part of this so decided to run for StuPa.
What skills must one have to become president or to be the president of the StuPa?
As long as you are motivated and interested in it you do not have to bring anything to the table and you will learn in the process. But I think you will definitely develop skills like public speaking, organization of groups, and organization of the parliament itself.
What is the importance of a StuPa?
In our university, it is often a body that acts more in the background but it has some very crucial functions. One of the functions is the election of the board of the General Student Committee (AStA). The AStA is the executive body inside the student self-administration. AStA organizes events for all students of the university and supports students when they have an issue. One of StuPa's most important functions is to set the budget for the and to oversee AStA's operations. But the most important function is that StuPa is a platform for students to voice their interests and to address any problems that they have with people who are listening to them.
What are the limits to what the StuPa can decide upon? Can the StuPa decide that when the pandemic is over lectures and examinations will continue to take place digitally?
We kind of have this dualism in our system. There is the university structure that is governed by the Senate and the president of the university. Separate from that is the self-administration of the student body. It consists of the StuPa, the AStA, and the Faculty Student Representatives (FSRs). The FSRs represent and act in the interests of the students of one faculty. StuPa's decisions are generally in the realm of the student body. We do not have any power over lecture periods or any matters that concern the university structure but the AStA and the StuPa definitely can address students' interests and problems and talk to the university. In the pandemic, we have often seen that we were able to represent the interests of students and change things for the better.
Could you maybe give some examples of what this StuPa did for the benefit of the student body in its term?
When everything was closing down due to the pandemic we saw that many students faced problems with their financial situation or with re-entering the country. The AStA informed the students about their rights, about the legal situations, and we tried to extend our available funds.
You mean the amendment of the social order which made it easier for students to apply for loans from the budget of the student body when they are in financial difficulty. How did this happen?
When students are applying for grants in general they have to give information about their finances and their visa status. We lowered the requirements for students to receive a loan. The process of the amendment itself is a little bureaucratic. If you want to amend one of the documents of the orders, the StuPa debates about it in three readings. Once the motion is voted upon it is forwarded to the legal department of our university. If there are no objections to legal documents then it goes to the presidency of the university to sign it off.
Do you think that the students value the work of StuPa?
I think StuPa does a lot of good work but I think unfortunately a lot of people are not aware of it. Either they do not realize or they confuse it with other bodies of the student self-administration. But I think that students approve the work in general.
At the last student body elections only 21% of all students casted their ballot. How do you think university politics can become more interesting for students?
First of all, when we are talking about 21% that was definitely an improvement to the years before. I think we just have to make more visible what the student body does, what it provides, and inform students how they can participate themselves.
Maybe students find the processes and the rules tedious and boring. Do you think we need a reform of these?
I think that certainly is something that applies to StuPa specifically and that the AStA or the FSRs do not have this problem. I think that a lot of rules concerning the debates were sometimes a little scary or preventing students from participating. Certain debate rules are sometimes necessary especially when topics are more controversial they are important to ensure a fair debate. But overall, I think it should not be too complicated to know when you are allowed to speak, how you can participate in the debate, and who you can talk to.
This year has been marked not only by the pandemic but also by global debates about social issues such as gender equality and racism. How has the StuPa put gender equality on its agenda?
In general this is a topic which the AStA can address better than StuPa, but we try to have an equal amount of men and women in the positions of the student self-administration. Of course, in StuPa that is not up to us but to the students when they vote. So far, we always had more men both in the AStA and in StuPa so that is something we are definitely concerned about and we always try to live up to that standard.
What steps has the StuPa taken to address racism in our university? Do you think that there is racism in our university?
Yeah there certainly is racism. I think racism still exists in our society and in some forms also in our university. In particular, there were some incidents with students living in the dorms in Kamp-Lintfort. When they reached out to us we and the AStA immediately informed the Studierendenwerk Düsseldorf, which rents the dorms to the students, and the university. The police and the mayor visited and tried to improve things. We do not have a department that specifically focuses on that, but when students experience any form of racism we have the AStA International and AStA Social department to help. The AStA can address issues without students being in the front row. If there is anything, reach out to us and we will take care.
How do you envision the future of StuPa? What could be tasks for the next StuPa, maybe even after the pandemic?
I hope that StuPa will become more visible, which is certainly independent of the pandemic and the StuPa has to continue to work on that. We made some great first steps but I do not think that is enough yet. Our documents have been written ten years ago and there is always room for improvement so that it will be less bureaucratic and more understandable. But there will also be a lot of other topics, such as climate change or making our university greener. We established a new AStA department that is concerned with sustainability. In general, it is up to the next StuPa, the students will vote for, to determine what will be the main topics.
Sebastian became a member of the Student Parliament in his third semester. He has been the President of StuPa for one year. For questions please contact him at: Studierendenparlament-Praesidium@hsrw.org
All information about the election process can be found at: https://asta-hsrw.de/elections-2021/ .