The Student Union Is Driven by New Ideas and Ambitious Students
Māris Lapšovs, a fourth-year student at the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Faculty of Medicine, is the outgoing Chair of the RSU Student Union (SU). He started working in the SU in his first year as Deputy Chair, and was after that elected as Head of Academic Affairs.
This year Māris Lapšovs is a senior member of the SU, but still feels a strong attachment. At the beginning of the year the new Chair, Anna Jete Gauja, as well as other members approach him with questions. 'People in the SU change every year, but a lot of projects has already set in motion that need to be continued. The new members of the board need to be prepared for the work so they can execute it as well as the people before them, and preferably even better,' says Māris Lapšovs.
Māris Lapšovs on 24 August 2019 at the opening of the RSU freshman seminar ZGI. Photo from the RSU SU archive.
What was your year as the Chair of SU like?
Unbelievably dynamic! The symbol of SU is a horse, so I will say that my year galloped ahead at full speed. We worked a lot and achieved great results.
Have you ever regretted applying for the position of the Chair?
No, I never regretted my decision. My work is, of course, best judged by others, but I still think the year was a success.
Did you manage to increase student involvement as you planned?
There are currently around 150 active students in the SU, or activists as we call them. They take part in a wide variety of events and activities. This shows that there are many responsive and active students at RSU, though there could always be more, of course.
One of the goals of your board was to make international students feel at home at the university. Did you manage to achieve this goal?
We always want to remind students that the RSU SU also represents international students. The International Students’ Association (ISA) is an auxiliary organisation of SU that provides assistance in dealing with incoming international students. Up until 2019 RSU was taking, if I may say so, small steps towards providing an inclusive environment for international students, but in 2019 there was a big leap forwards. In 2019, thanks to successful cooperation with the university’s management, ISA received their own offices at 5 Dārza Iela.
In 2019 we started organising various projects in both Latvian and English to make RSU more inclusive. Our meetings and seminars are held in both languages, for example. Major projects that SU organises, such as the International Student Conference and Research Month, are conducted in English.
At the beginning of 2019, we included several ideas for how to involve international students in our annual SU strategy. At least one project per year must be organised for each branch of the SU in cooperation with international students. There had been no such requirement until now. All student scientific interest groups must have at least one meeting per year together with an international student scientific interest group.
All SU documents are also available in English, e.g. student application for scientific research work support, the strategy I mentioned before, regulations on project competition support, etc.
The international students at RSU are very ambitious, which encourages us to move forward and do more in this regard. I think this is only fair, but their demands should be reasonable and proportionate taking into account the realistic possibilities and scope of what the SU can do.
Did you not want to apply for the position of the Chair again?
Last year was my third year in the SU. I wanted to finish my career in the Student Union as the Chair and I succeeded. I did not want to continue because I saw students with new ideas coming in. The three-year mark is a time when you get used to a lot, when many things start seeming self-evident and sometimes you lack a fresh point of view. You must give newcomers joining the SU the opportunity to work! This is also one of the core concepts of the union for things to change every year and for new people to join the organisation with fresh ideas. This forces the university to work actively and not to lose momentum.
Besides, this is my fourth year of studies and I want to focus more on professional activities and research.
What was your board's biggest achievement in 2019?
There was a beautiful moment at the end of November 2019 when students that I didn’t know came up to me and thanked me for our work during the RSU Talent Show. This was, in my opinion, the main achievement – that SU works in good faith and that we don’t have to hide from students for being ashamed of not fulfilling our responsibilities.
I would also like to mention the hard work that was invested into the professional Bachelor’s study programme Law when the Ministry of Education and Science decided that it would no longer award the qualification of a legal adviser. There were lengthy discussions with RSU management on the best way to protect our students who were already enrolled in this programme, or were planning to apply for it.
Another major challenge was the development and improvement of the second level Medicine study programme together with university management and to synchronise it with other European universities. We gave a lot of thought to improving this study programme from the students’ point of view, because it was a perfect opportunity to improve on aspects of the programme that might not have been completely polished.
Work has begun in cooperation with the Ministry of Health on granting special status to sixth-year medical students working in hospitals similar to how it is in Germany and Austria. They already have specific skills and are doing a specific job there.
My team’s biggest challenge was working on RSU memoranda to improve the contents of study programmes. These incorporated students' suggestions and a commitment from each stakeholder for what they would do to improve the contents. We did a tremendous amount of work in preparing these memoranda as we compiled and analysed study course evaluation questionnaires and various student suggestions. Three memoranda have already been signed by faculties, and there are very productive discussions being led with faculty management on three additional memoranda. Students wish to point out what could be improved and changed and help faculty management implement these suggestions.
The list of accomplishments goes on to include such projects as Research Month, the Autumn Academic Seminar, the Project Organisation Seminar etc.
Māris Lapšovs (sixth from the left) on 2 September 2019, together with the SU Board and Vice-Rector for Studies Tatjana Koķe (in the middle). Photo from the RSU SU archive.
What is the greatest lesson that you learned as the Chair during this year?
The most positive lesson I learned is that nothing is impossible at our university if you set your mind to it.
It is, therefore, easy for the RSU SU to function, because we always find a common language with university management. As I often say at different meetings: 'We all have a common goal – to maintain a high level of studies and to continually improve our study content.'
What advice do you have for new Chair of the SU, Anna Jete Gauja?
Don’t be afraid to do things! Even if a job seems difficult and impossible to do. This is my advice for the entire team. If you work towards common goals, nothing is impossible!
This year I once again saw that one person can’t do much on their own. I was lucky to be surrounded by amazing people, and it was a real honour be the Chair of the SU. Everything that we achieved, and all the positive memories that I have from this past year are solely thanks to this great team. Many thanks to all of them, and I hope that these people will continue to prove themselves through their work at both the university, and in other areas of their lives!
This is the 70th anniversary year of RSU. What would you wish your university?
Remember that 70 years is not much! The university is still young, so we have to keep the progress going! We need to renew what is necessary, to give up the things that are in our way, and keep listening to students and take their ideas and suggestions into account.