A different approach to the same problems in student union
Last month I visited Estonia as part of our international activities. During the visit, I had many fruitful conversations with the representatives of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions –EÜL and the Tallinn University of Technology –TalTech. What are these topics? Funding, the student status, how student unions work, and student well-being. And in this blog, I would like to share some of what I learnt. Did you know? Estonia has the 4th highest inflation rate in the European Union at 18.6%, whilst Finland is 19th at 7.9%
One of the major topics we spoke of was student status in both countries. Sadly, students both in Estonia and Finland are not doing well. Students have difficulties with their finances, livelihood and well-being. And how these upcoming parliamentary elections play a significant role in improving student status. I learnt how suffocating the poor funding of EÜL affects their capability to do the things they would like. For example, a big part of EÜL funding is project-based funding. Thus, it forces them to focus more on projects than other areas of importance. Even so, they give attention to their member unions. TalTech’s student union backed this up, as they spoke highly about how smooth their collaborations have been with EÜL.
At TalTech, I was surprised to hear how their board worked. It consisted of three people who served a two-year term. And each person on the board had a team who worked with them. These teams consist of volunteer student activists. Nothing surprising so far, right? Well, here is the surprise! The board consists of two parts. One consists of two members, and the other of one member. The representatives of the two parts change in an alternating cycle. Thus, ensuring there is always at least one person with experience on the board. But wait there’s more! TalTech does not directly produce events. Instead, they fund their local associations for them. This way, the Student Union can focus on student advocacy, acquiring sponsorships, being the bridge connecting the students and executives of the university, and other areas that require them.
Let me share my thoughts on these. Restructuring the board reduces the cost of the union when it comes to paying the representatives of the student union board. Giving the board teams, who will work with them, ensures that the volunteers and individuals who are part of these teams would be highly motivated and capable of carrying out the groups’ goals. Outsourcing events as a sector to student associations and instead funding them gives the board more time and resources to focus on their duties as a union. Where would all the freed time and resources be put? Student advocacy, tutoring, improving student services on campuses, and many more.
Writer: Adel Rizvi, SAMOK’s board member 2023