Two weeks ago, the Teachers College in Jeddah wonderfully completed the elections of a student council following the example of the student council in the Teachers College in Medina. The following of the elections by the press was interesting for two reasons: it had one of the biggest turnouts of voters as 90% cast their votes and that this indicated the revival of student life in Saudi Arabia.
According to an article by our colleague Sultan Al Obthani in one of his reports to Asharq Al Awsat, he made an interesting and intelligent comparison as he noted that the number of voters in the student elections exceeded those voting in municipal elections. His report was a clear and important message that the municipal elections are presented as an “adults only” election and that the youngsters are not permitted to take part.
Will the next municipal elections see the voters age-limit reduced from 21 to 18? Will girls be allowed to vote? Will there be awareness campaigns especially in schools and universities concerning the necessity of integration into the civil state and the obligation to express one’s opinion?
Amer Al Shehri, the public relations official and member of the Jeddah Teachers College noted that the elected student council would start its work next year. He highlighted that the students will write up a document that defines and outlines the aims and responsibilities of the council.
I sincerely hope that the authority given to the student council will be real and clear rather than merely for show. The students could perhaps train in other countries that are successful in this field to see how student bodies work.
The council should not retract from its historical associate, the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah in the 70’s where students voted, were elected, and practiced their rights freely. The contemporaries of this experience assert that the student body of King Abdulaziz University, which was private back then, was not artificial. The students had authority and could directly talk to the student affairs director about academic matters. The independent student bodies back then actually caused the dismissal of a university lecturer for humiliating a student who refused to answer a mathematics question.
I do not know how a university student would react to this story, perhaps with a bitter smile or a sigh. What I do know however is that we strongly require an active and vital student climate in our universities, and to revitalize the role of student bodies. The civil experience our kingdom is going through under the leadership of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz should reach the universities and the students who make up approximately 60% of Saudi society.