UTSU’s activities, all spelled out.

UTSU is the University of Tartu Student Union. It makes sense that the union represents students, but often UTSU’s other activities remain invisible to them. Now is the time to spell these activities out.

The members of the student union are mostly students, who are currently experiencing the student life with all its charms and pains. But one’s own experience isn’t enough to represent the whole student body. That’s why there’s the union, that has the members acting as the eyes, ears and mouth of all the students, helping us to see and hear the students and amplify their voices to reach places it might otherwise not reach.

The student representatives participate in discussions on behalf of the students, both inside the university and outside. They form their own student council in each faculty and institute, which then represents the students in the Council of the given institute or faculty.

The representatives in the Faculty Student Councils form a Student Parliament, which is the highest decision-making body of the student body. The Student Parliament elects the Board, which guides the daily work of the student union, sets priorities and collaborates with the staff and members of the Student Union Office.

The representatives also belong to the UT Senate, which is the university’s highest academic decision-making body and the Federation of Estonian Student Unions. Thus, the students are represented in multiple places and if the representative’s reach falls a bit short in solving a problem in one spot, they will find the solution somewhere else.

Every student of the University of Tartu can become a candidate for the student union and each student has the chance to elect representatives from amongst themselves. The elections take place during spring.

What UTSU has done

In 2019 the Universities Act was replaced by the Higher Education Act. This change allowed the schools for tertiary education to make decisions more independently in many topics, which is why it was also necessary to change UT’s Study Regulations. There the student union grabbed the reins and made the proposal to allow studying during an academic leave. In collaboration with the university’s management and senate, the proposal was accepted on the 26th of April last year.

At the same Senate hearing the student union’s proposals to place regular exam times on different dates, allow an academic leave during the first year of the Master’s or PhD studies and cancel the grade F on substantial grounds, were also accepted.

The student union was there for the students even during the emergency situation. A big part of the spring semester was spent on gathering feedback about the study quality, forwarding the students’ concerns to the programme directors and mediating the communication between the directors of the university and the students.

The student union was there for the students even during the emergency situation. A big part of the spring semester was spent on gathering feedback about the study quality, forwarding the students’ concerns to the programme directors and mediating the communication between the directors of the university and the students.

In multiple courses the union helped set up a student-friendly hybrid learning solution. UTSU also praised the teaching staff who adapted well in a difficult situation.

Voting during Student Parliament meeting

In order for the transition to distance learning to be smoother, the student union, in collaboration with the institute of computer science, arranged to borrow laptops to students. This fall UTSU is also ready to help the students solve their problems with all their advice and might.

The life of a student representative

There are two types of representatives: those who come, try and leave and those who hold the position with dedication.

Taavo Tähtjärv is a pharmacy student, who joined UTSU already in 2018. During the first academic year he represented fellow students in his Institute Student Council, the next year he was already on both the institute and faculty level and this year he is a part of the UTSU Monitoring Committee, which provides oversight over the fulfillment of the goals set in the student union statutes.

“Every student, who has the courage to express their opinions and has the heart of a humanitarian, should become a representative,” said Tähtjärv. He considers himself to also be a bit of an altruist, since he wants to contribute to making the students’ life better.

Tähtjärv finds that since the world is changing fast, and with it the university as well, the students themselves have to make them be seen and heard, so the changes would be beneficial to them. “We ourselves have to stand for our ideas and I don’t know of a better way of doing it in the university than being a student representative,” he said.

UTSU keeps foreign students close to action with the help of a translator

Being on his third year in UTSU, Tähtjärv knows that the union has developed and made itself more heard in multiple university structure units. “We have been able to prove, that the students’ opinion is also important and it has to be taken into account,” he said. Tähtjärv dreams of a time, where every student wants to belong to UTSU and considers being active in the union as a matter of pride.

Joosep Heinsalu started in 2019 as a representative of the social sciences faculty and is continuing there this year as well. In addition, he belongs to the Institute of Education’s Student Council. He’s certain that if there wasn’t an organisation like UTSU, with its defined structure and membership, representing the students and solving problems would be less efficient than it is now.

Heinsalu also thought that working in the union is good to develop ones analytical and argumentation skills and that it brings the representative into the information field, where it might be difficult to get otherwise.

To be up to date with what UTSU is doing, Heinsalu recommends taking a look at the union’s website at tyye.ut.ee and to keep an eye on the event series taking place this year “UTSU presents”.