Only students speak for students
BRUSSELS – Today the executive branch of European Commission DG EAC launched the new Erasmus+ Student and Alumni Association (ESAA) in connection with the much criticised Erasmus Masters loan scheme. EAC claims the new association will represent over 3 million Erasmus+ students in the period until 2020. The European Students Union calls foul on this so-called “representation”.
ESAA is not an independent organisation run by students but an organisation designed by DG EAC in cooperation with business interests. ESAA has more or less forced together four existing associations (Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association, Erasmus Student Network, garagErasmus (gE) and OCEANS network). Out of these four, DG EAC initiated two out of the four member organisations and the third is a foundation run by business interests. The existence of ESAA, the foundation or the organisations is of course not a problem in itself. The problem comes when the European Commission claims that ESAA speaks on behalf of students as was claimed in yesterday’s press release.
It has also been made clear that far from all organisations, that are members of ESAA, are doing so on a fully voluntary basis. This was apparent at the launch itself where the terms “forced and arranged marriage”, “pushed under the umbrella”, and the process was likened to the book ‘Green eggs and ham’ by the representative from DG EAC. In addition ESU has been made aware that some people in the concerned organisations have become fearful of truly speaking their mind due to the implied consequences to their organisations if they do not happily join this top-down initiative that seemingly aims to diminish their voice in favour of interests from within the Commission and private enterprise. It is also important to note that the answer to the fact that the Commission needs to coordinate more with stakeholders cannot be to create its own stakeholders.
Today Xavier Prats Monné (Director General of DG EAC) said at the launch that up until this point students have only played a marginal part in reforming education. This could not be further from the truth. Students have been at the forefront of democratic development and policy reform in education and beyond for hundreds of years. From the founding of the Bologna University, the spark for democracy in Romania, to the protestors Maidan, students have played a huge role in Europe’s educational development and history at large and they have organised themselves. Often this has angered and annoyed those in power as student voices have not been able to be controlled. The tactic of creating parallel or superseding structures controlled by policymakers is as old as student organising itself. Students have also had a substantial impact on Erasmus and the success of Erasmus. That role and even the credit for that work should be given to the organisations who deserve it. It cannot and should not be denied in favour of pushing specific policy agendas.
Elisabeth Gehrke, Chairperson of the European Students’ Union had the following to say:
“We have since the start been critical of the Master loan scheme. The fact that the launch of the loan scheme was highlighted in combination with this attack on independent student representation must be someone in the DG EACs idea of a funny joke. We are not laughing. The dangers of student debt, and the right to organise are serious matters”.
“This situation is very worrying to say the least. Since no clear answers have been given we have no choice but to take action to ensure that independent student organisations will be fairly represented. We will invite all of them to a meeting to see how we can help protect their right to organise. We will also be reporting DG EAC and this process to the European Ombudsman so the situation can be independently assessed and all questions can be answered”
Some of the questions that will be put forward to be addressed:
- What was the procedure of the inclusion and exclusion of the member organisations?
- Why do the funds go through a service provider instead of the organisations themselves?
- What influence will the service provider, DG EAC and non-student lead organisations have on policy and representation?
- How is this allocation of 900 000 euro to a single DG EAC invented organisation transparent or fair compared to existing grant procedures?
- Why does the Commission now claim the organisation will represent Erasmus students when the involved organisations were originally told that this would not be the case?
- Why is the organisation linked to specific policy objectives and not others, how was this decision made?
Links to some of ESUs previous statements on the Masters loan scheme: