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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Maastricht: A Divided and Transient City for Students?

On Monday 22nd January, MaasX organised an open evening named “Maastricht- What’s up Democracy?” for members of the Maastricht community to come together to discuss a number of contentious issues that have surfaced.

Why are they doing this? Well, the local elections are coming up on March 21 and there is a general feeling in the air that not enough people are aware of what is going on. Voters do not necessarily know their voting rights or even what they are voting on or for, and the provided platforms are not necessarily in touch with what their electorate would like to see. MaasX organised an evening in an attempt to bridge this divide.

Who was involved? Well, a few of the more prominent groups were Mosaiek Magazine, a FASoS publication aimed at documenting student life, the Green Office of Maastricht, the University Housing Helpdesk, and Starters Valley, a group that in concerned with creating opportunity for startups in Maastricht. Of course, students and locals of Maastricht were also involved in getting their voices heard. While it was perhaps not an evening as well attended as MaasX would have preferred, it is my belief that a lot of interesting points came up. To begin with, MaasX divided us all up into different tables with different topics on offer to see what came out. As could be expected, these topics were related to aforementioned associations and groups. However, what came out was perhaps not anticipated but not necessarily surprising. It would seem that, in Maastricht, there is a societal polarization between the student body and the local community and within the student population as well. Considering that the student body comprises of 1/6th of the total population, I find this to be an alarming situation. Forget about the possibility of swinging a vote one way or another in the elections, there is a real prospect for the students to make a lasting impact on the social scene in this city. Moreover, the lack political involvement in the city’s affairs is testified by the 47% students’ turnout in the last municipal elections held in 2014. A divide exists, this is an issue that came up time and again during the course of the evening and in fact has been reported to come up in casual conversation on a regular basis.

But what is this divide? Where does it exist? A few common points were language and the workplace, obviously related issues, information about how the basics of Maastricht life work, and the clashing of cultures. To begin with, the language barrier is an obvious divide and, in my opinion, not a huge deal. Perhaps, coming from South Africa where we have a history of Afrikaans (derived from Dutch), I am in a more fortunate situation than most but I personally would say that if one is to move to another country to study then it seems obvious that one should learn the language of that country. However, this is easier said than done of course. This problem extends to the workplace, where we are expected to have a good command of Dutch. However, without that knowledge, we are excluded from the workplace and so the opportunity to break down the social barriers there are denied to the foreign members of the community. If these social barriers cannot be breached in the workplace due to this language barrier, then where can they be broken down. Not a problem that would seem uncomplicated to solve. Another issue that came up quite regularly was the fact that not enough information is given to students on how city life is run here. Now, considering that Dutch life is highly regulated, this is a serious concern for a lot of us. I personally have been subject to more than one fine for breaking rules I did not know existed. Anyone caught without lights on their bicycles can attest to this, I am sure. Here again, the language barrier reared its head because for many students, the only information they can find on municipal workings are in Dutch. Finally, one of the last prominent issues for students would be housing. Finding housing, finding affordable housing, finding help with regards to any problems related to housing, these are all issues that students face year after year but there seems to be little help coming forward in this area. This can mainly attributed to the six seats that the Senioren Partij (Senior Party), making it the second political force in the City Council and leading the municipality to restrict the number of licenses for students’ house. However, from the local perspective there is a very obvious issue that perhaps the student body is blind to, and that lies within the fact that well over 90% of the student body leaves Maastricht within four months of graduation. For them, it would seem as if they are being asked to continually invest in a population that is constantly moving and changing and so they are effectively chasing their tails in circles. Maastricht is a stepping stone for the majority of students and so to provide such a solid support structure for a transient group is a large ask of the municipality. A proposition that has been made is to provide a culture where start-ups are well supported, a Limburg Silicone Valley of sorts, which would provide incentive for students to stay and create more permanent lives here. Again, easier said than done for those up top. This article may be highlighting more issues than solutions, but that was the feeling from the evening that MaasX organised this past Monday. Many issues were raised from both sides, but to expect solutions to appear so quickly would be a naive wish from anyone. However, there are a few positives that I believe can be taken away. First, fruitful debates were brought to the table, with an official platform to express ideas and opinions. Voices were heard and hopefully this evening provided an opportunity for something to be done. Secondly, this evening brought out the issue of the polarization that I believe everyone knows about but perhaps is not spoken about in any official capacity. Airing the dirty laundry, so to speak, is necessary for society to move forward and change. Now, as I stated before, we cannot expect immediate solutions to the problems. But maybe this evening was a start on something for us in this city that we all share together, for better or for worse. All of us at The Diplomat and the UNSA would like to thank MaasX and those organisations involved for organising this opportunity for members of the community to speak up and have their voices heard.


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