ESU Assesses Student Movement in Armenia
The European Students’ Union was invited by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in the European office in Yerevan (OSCE) to conduct a study visit of the Armenian students’ movement. This took place from the 8th-14th June. Our mandate was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of student councils in particular, within the general framework of the Armenian higher education sector. In this capacity, the study visit team carried out interviews with the main actors in the higher education sector (rectors, deputy ministers, trade unions) as well as several bodies within the students’ movement (student councils, student NGO’s and the national youth council). The study visit team was able to draw a clear picture of the situation of Armenia’s student movement and concluded their visit with some recommendations.
Although the study visit team found a fair amount of evidence that the Armenian students’ movement is not (yet) fulfilling the four pillars of student representation mapped out in the Ljubljana declaration, it is not negative about its future. In several meetings, we were convinced by enthusiastic individuals that groups of students in every university are ready to take action. The study visit team is optimistic that if a public debate about student representation is started a strong student movement will develop, highly improving the quality of reforms in higher education in Armenia.
The most interesting challenge for the Armenian students is the existence of what the study visit team considers to be a ‘two-systems-system’. There exists a legal system that ensures student representation in all universities. In that system, student councils exist and have a relatively strong voice in all administrative bodies of public universities. Through the student councils, students can potentially voice their frustrations and change their own realities. Next to this formal structure, an informal decision making procedure exists, in which decisions are taken in a more informal way. Important in this informal decision making procedure are good relations between individuals, informal networks and access to information. These two systems operate next to each other and sometimes overlap, making it hard for students to find a clear way to influence and improve their situation. The fact that Armenia is just starting to implement the Bologna reforms should be an encouragement for students to claim their participation in all debates on higher education right here, right now.
Within the discussions on the findings, the study visit team has developed several recommendations. These recommendations are divided into three categories – to the student councils, the institutions themselves and the ministry of education. The study visit team considers that the organisation of students is primarily a responsibility of students themselves, but a higher education system can ensure circumstances that create a more conducive atmosphere to develop a strong student representation structure.