NovUM: New and Unprecedented?
New, fresh, novel, unusual, and unprecedented; that is what Novum means in Latin. Would the party NovUM at UM represent the same values? They claim to be politically left leaning, is this title justified?
I feel able to answer this question after my interview with Ena Skrijelj, the Montenegrin NovUM's student representative in the FHML Faculty Council and the Vice President of NovUM. I have learned more about their activities and I hope that this article will help you to understand a little bit more about their role at Maastricht University.
It has been two years that Ena is on the board of the party and so she can perceive better than many the progress that they have made. Last year they were neither endowed with a marketing nor a social media strategy, while this year they really are. This has helped create a Novum community according to her. She is only 22 but it does not keep her away from being ambitious. Bringing awareness about diversity in the clinical field and give more internships options; these were her objectives she prevailed this year. Otherwise, as a party, they believe in four core values: housing, sustainability, education and internationalism. What do they mean by these? What have they actually achieved so far?
Maastricht faces a housing problem because the population is growing, especially the student population. However, the number of dwellings does not respond to this phenomenon. This leads to "expensive rents" and to this "pick and choose" system, where very often only Dutch women are accepted as tenants. From what I understand, Maastricht is progressively becoming a rathole when it was supposed to be suited for students. Unlike other parties, NovUM made this issue their number one priority because according to Ena, they felt that “there wasn’t enough done for housing”. They are trying to solve this problem through complaints in the University Council and in various Faculty Councils.
In addition, they started a series of videos called “How to Maastricht” which helps students to accommodate to Maastricht. One of them explains how to choose an apartment wisely in Maastricht and how not to get ripped off by landlords.
Their political officer is also part of the housing committee that the Maastricht Student Union (MSU) has created along with other student political groups. He represents NovUM values in the committee, in order to help fight the housing crisis. If you do not know what MSU is, it is a student foundation committed to, among other aims, improving housing policies in Maastricht.
NovUM only started to build this pillar this year, which explains why their ideas are not yet so developed. For instance, if they would dig deeper, they could push the university to build other student housing centers with affordable rooms for students.
[*Editor’s note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the on-the-ground situation, which has since come to light from conversations with representatives from MSU. We always welcome input from members of the Maastricht community, as ongoing conversations serve progress.]
Novum has noticed that the Covid pandemic has affected the level of education at Maastricht University. Indeed, I agree that courses online are less productive than in person.
Instead of standing idly by, the party has been striving to keep the mental health of students. They understand the difficulties that students can encounter. In addition, they want the high quality of education to be maintained no matter what the circumstances are.
They took some initiatives outside of the Council to solve these issues. They accepted to take part in the wellbeing week. In fact, they were the only party to have joined it. If you did not know it, UM has a wellbeing movement and every year they organize a week with workshops and activities to improve or keep your wellbeing. During this week, in collaboration with the wellbeing week, Novum organized a workshop to know what students would need for the year.
Additionally, they started a petition against proctorio. If you do not know about proctorio, it is « the use of camera and sound observations in the living rooms of students used to effect
control during exams ». In other words, they are against the invasion of students’ privacy. Their claim is quite legitimate since this testing is unlawful and unconstitutional according to Dutch law. “We pressured the university to look for other kinds of testing,” Ena told me. Their fight is impressive because it shows that NovUM can not only talk, but also act.
Maastricht University has the largest number of international students of all universities in Holland. Yet, many “student associations are really Dutch focused”, overburdening the adaptation of international students in Maastricht.
Hence, Novum wants to respond to this matter by not “distinguishing between Dutch and non-Dutch students”. “We want the international students to feel integrated into the university” Ena asserted. For them, this challenge seems feasible to solve in the Council and the Faculty councils since most of their staff is international.
As with some other parties, Novum started defending climate-friendly values in the Council “when no one was talking about it”. For instance, at FASOS they added recycling bins which was a product of the Council.
On this point, I wished I received more concrete information. Actually, I would have liked somehow Ena to give me more material on NovUM’s actions in general. Although I know more about NovUM than before the interview, I still feel that some points are still obscure to me. I hope it will become clearer in the next interviews.
According to Ena, the party has achieved many things this year. She seemed optimistic for the future and hopes that NovUM gets more seats in the Council next year. They are thinking of new projects but she did not want to give me more information about it. Hopefully, we will know about it soon.
NovUM seems to make a lot of progress in many fields and brings many new ideas to the Council. However, it is a shame that they have such little power in the university decisions. Especially, when it comes to the topics discussed above, students should have a bigger say. Also, I find it strange that a self-proclaimed left wing party does not tackle any issue concerning health care. There are indeed many international students in Maastricht and most of the ones I know would agree that it is difficult to be medically assisted in Maastricht. UM could have a GP assigned who could speak English, who would accept various assurances and who would understand students’ issues. The university could maybe make a website explaining how the healthcare system works in the Netherlands. In University College of London for example, they have a website where they inform international students about the British healthcare system.
I am looking forward to the next interview to know more about NovUM. I already have many more questions I would like to ask them.