Student government – the voice of students

The university experience can be a very formative stage in many people’s lives. Student involvement in university life will often have profoundly lasting effects, and many institutions try to provide various opportunities for individuals to grow during their student years.  Nazarbayev University is no different.    At Nazarbayev University the voice of every student is important, and the Student Government (hereinafter – SG) serves as a bridge between students and the NU administration.  SG representatives are members of many University committees, including the Academic Council. During such committee meetings many important policies are considered which affect students and their lives. The main purpose of this work is to provide the well-being of the student community and to protect the rights and interests of students.

Our guest Zhaniya Mukatay, the current President of the Student Government, described how the SG works.  Zhaniya is a 3rd-year student in the School of Sciences and Humanities and the 9th President of the Student Government.  She is also the first president to be elected online following a completely online campaign due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Zaniya, you are the first SG President elected online, tell us how the elections were held this year.

– The elections were held in accordance with the regulation on the elections of the Student Government, there were no exceptions, on the contrary, more requirements were added to preserve the transparency of the electoral process itself. As in previous years, candidates went through the following stages: registration, Kazakh language test, election campaign, debates, and then direct voting. The distinctive feature of the 2020 elections was that all stages were held online, as well as the election campaign, which was conducted through social networks and other Internet platforms to maintain communication with the “electorate”. Because the process happened completely online, there was a risk that the number of students who could participate in the election process would be limited to those active in social media and other networks online, and that voter turnout would be lower compared to previous elections.  However,  the number of students voted in this year’s election was higher. Student Government should be commended that they ran such a successful election process during these difficult times and under the constraint of operating fully online.

Please provide examples when initiatives of the President and the SG  improved students’ lives.

-In fact, there have been many such initiatives during the history of SG’s work, so let me elaborate on one of the latest initiatives. The pandemic affected all kinds of people, including students. To help students cope with the shock of this unexpected and terrible situation, we started lobbying for a temporary change for how students would be evaluated academically. In the middle of the last semester, due to the rapid spread of the virus, students had to end their studies on campus and return to their home cities. However, not all students had the same conditions to continue their studies at home, some did not have the necessary equipment and others did not have access to a stable Internet connection. Moreover, many had family, financial, mental, and other problems. Therefore, to help students during the new form of study and to ensure academic fairness, we agreed with the University administration to introduce an SD/UD assessment system that would consider the impact of the pandemic on students. This practice turned out to be effective, and many students confessed that it really improved their situation.

What steps do you plan to take during your presidency?  

– There are a lot of plans for this year, but the most important ones are the creation of the Alliance of Student Leaders of Kazakhstan, transformation of the system of student self-governance, i.e. restructuring of the Student Government, and increasing SG’s commercial activity. And, most importantly, to support and raise students’ morale during and after the pandemic. This year we are focused on structural work, which will bear fruit in the long term. We may not be able to fully implement some projects, however, we will lay a solid foundation, which the next generation of SG will work on.

During your distance learning, how do you plan to work with the student community?

– To encourage students to remain active in the decision-making process even though most of this work will be online this semester, we plan to increase the number of ways students can express their opinions and views on university policies. For example, we are working on a system to collect student feedback. We plan to start reorganizing student councils to make their work more legitimate and to delegate some of SG work to them.

Moreover, we have started working closely with student clubs. Now we are developing an online platform through which students can share their opinions, and most importantly, they will hopefully be able to feel connected to the larger student community.  This sense of connection is very difficult to maintain during the current times of distance learning.  

And finally, can you give five tips for new students during distance learning?

– My first tip is to keep an eye on your health. One’s physical condition is an important part of one’s mental and psychological well-being.

Second tip: Ask for help if you are in a difficult situation, whether academic or personal. It is quite normal to feel out of sorts sometimes, so do not be shy about your situation, and do not be afraid to ask for help.

The third piece of advice might seem trivial, but it is important, and was repeated during the orientation sessions: ask questions if something is not clear. This will help you effectively identify the problems you are facing and find the best solution to overcome them.

The fourth piece of advice is to take on challenges. Challenges and problems are important parts of life that give us experience.  Challenges make us learn, help us become stronger, and contribute to our personal growth. So do not run away from your problems. Do not ignore them and do not try to hide from them. Deal with them. Learning how to face your problems is one of life’s greatest lessons.  

And my final advice is – take advantage of all the opportunities that the university offers, both for personal and professional growth. Attend all sorts of webinars and events, participate in research, do something other than study, because only then will you experience student life in all its glory.  By fully participating, you may end up leaving your mark on the university.  You may leave a legacy for future students by changing the experience for the better.