International students feel uninvolved in student elections

From left: Jure Verčko, Aurélie Clement and Alice Lubrano all agreed more could be done to include international students in the election. PHOTO: THEA STEPHANSEN

From left: Jure Verčko, Aurélie Clement and Alice Lubrano all agreed more could be done to include international students in the election. PHOTO: THEA STEPHANSEN

Information not provided in English, students uninformed, and executive committee finding it «hard» to get students involved.

Student Elections
  • 22 percent turnout last year.
  • 3 out of 7 lists not providing manifestos in English.
  • Internationals comprise 10-15 percent of student body.
  • Executive Committee finding it «hard» to engage with students.

Despite making up nearly 15 percent of the student body, international students are feeling left out of the upcoming elections. Seven out of the eight international students Studvest talked to were unable to name any of the political lists or policies and most said it was hard to track down that information.

Not involved

Alice Lubrano and her friend Aurélie Clement, both French students studying at the University of Bergen (UiB) for one year, agreed they were not involved in the student elections. Whilst Aurélie admitted she immediately deleted an email on the topic which she received from UiB, Alice was not aware they were even happening.

– I do not feel involved or connected at all. I did not even know there were elections happening and I think it is because a lot of the posters are in Norwegian. Although I do not know the level of decision-making at the student parliament, I still think it is important to vote. Even if you are not Norwegian, it is democracy, Lubrano remarks.

It is not just Alice who is unclear about the election. Rihab Béjaoui, a twenty two year-old student, from Tunisia said she thought one of the campaign posters was advertising for a film.

– There are some posters in my student house but they are in Norwegian, not in English so I cannot understand what they are saying.

Not involved or connected: Alice (right) says she didn’t know that student elections where happening, whilst Aurélie (left) admits she deleted the email. PHOTO: THEA STEPHANSEN

Not involved or connected: Alice (right) says she didn’t know that student elections where happening, whilst Aurélie (left) admits she deleted the email. PHOTO: THEA STEPHANSEN

Room for improvement

Before writing this article, three out of the seven lists provided their online manifesto in English; that figure has since moved up to four. When asked why no English programme is available online, Eirik Lie Reikerås the third candidate from The Only Real Alternative Party (DERA) responded that it just was not worth it.

– We translated the programme last year and no one really saw it. This year we concentrated on distributing flyers in English. No one ever reads the programme so we did not prioritise that, especially as it takes a lot of work to translate a whole manifesto.

Andrea Nilsson, a candidate for Venstrealliansen (The Left Alliance), another list which did not provide their programme in English, conceded that there was room for improvement.

– I think we definitely have the potential to do a better job when it comes to providing information in English and it is something we will commit to do in the future.

Blå liste (The Moderate Party), another party without information in English, also regrets that they do not make their manifesto available to international students.

– Yes it is a problem that we do not have information in English and in an ideal world we would. Although we do not have the time now, we will do our best to fix this next year, promises Marius Olaussen a candidate with the Blå Liste.

We translated the programme last year and no one really saw it… no one ever reads the programmes so we did not prioritise that, especially as it takes a lot of work to translate a whole manifesto.

Eirik Lie Reikerås, third candidate from The Only Real Alternative Party (DERA)

Low turnout

With a turnout of just 22 percent of students during last year’s election, the student parliament and electoral board is coming under pressure to do more to promote these elections across the university. This week, the student parliament organised a meeting in Fantoft to encourage more international participation. Johanne Vaagland, the head of the executive committee at UiB’s student parliament explains how meetings and debates are starting to be held in English.

– We have a lot of improvements to make but if you look at UiO and NTNU for example, they have turnouts of 14 percent and 12 percent respectively says Johanne Vaagland. PHOTO: LENE THORBJØRNSEN

– The election board, which is responsible for running the election, are hosting an event at Klubb Fantoft where everyone can come along and talk to all the lists which is something that did not happen last year. UiB has also paid for a translator to be present at meetings so meetings held in Norwegian are also accessible to English speakers. I think it would be hard to expect the student parliament itself to conduct all its meetings in English, but we tried it in some cases and it went really well.

Whilst Vaagland was aware more needed to be done by the student parliament to try and increase voter turnout this year, she also points out that turnout was even lower at the University of Oslo (UiO) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

– We have a lot of improvements to make, but at the same time if you look at UiO and NTNU for example, they have turnouts of 14 percent and 12 percent respectively. In comparison to the other institutions in the country we are actually doing quite well. We are always trying to get more students to vote but it is hard.

Student responsibility

Whilst most of the international students interviewed agreed that the university could do more to reach out to them, Jure Verčko a Slovenian student believes that low voter turnout is partly down to apathy on the part of students.

– I think that this is a process you have be interested in. If you are not interested at all, you are not going to want to engage and whilst the university has a job to inspire people, students have to take some responsibility.

What is the Student Parliament and why should you care?

The Student Parliament at UiB is a mouth-piece for students’ concerns at the university. Because decisions taken by the university arguably affect students the most, it is amazing we do not take these elections more seriously.

The parliament comprises of 25 members who are elected on a yearly basis. Six students are chosen from the six faculties and a further 19 are directly elected by the student body. Parties are referred to as lists due to the fact that they must submit lists of candidates. Seats are then allocated based on the number of votes that each list gets.

As it says on the Student Parliament Website, «Students are by law ensured the right to partake in all decisions that affect them at the University of Bergen» and the Student Parliament is the highest level of representation at the university.

For international students though, it is easy to feel a bit left out of the whole process and many of us will probably not stay long enough to see any policies enacted. In spite of that, it is still important for international students to stand up and be counted. This is a chance to give the university feedback on what it is doing well, what it could do better, and to improve the overall experience for future exchange students.