1999 Policy Paper “Student Rights – Human Rights”
ESIB – The National Unions of Students in Europe has existed since 1982 to promote
educational, social, economic and cultural interests of students at a European level, and
towards all relevant organisations and institutions. ESIB currently has 41 member
organisations from 32 countries.
Student rights form the fundamental basis of ESIB actions and policies. Student rights are
derived from human rights, considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the authoritative
interpretations of these acts.
Education and human rights are two concepts which are intrinsically linked. Firstly, the
right to education is a human right. This particular right requires that students have
certain other rights, so that they are enabled to exercise the right to education. Secondly,
education is a fundamental means of promoting all human rights.
In order to exercise the fundamental human right to education, students must also have
other rights. Examples of such necessary rights are the civil and political rights to
freedom of expression and privacy and the economic, social and cultural rights to social
security, work, housing and health care; all of which are set forth in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. ESIB finds these human rights to be fundamental for all
Students have the same civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as other
members of society. For example students must enjoy the same welfare entitlements as
others and must not have a lesser stake in these.
Education as a human right
Education is aimed towards full personal development and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also promotes the culture and
understanding of active, critical and constructive participation. Education shall promote
understanding, tolerance, respect and friendship among all nations, ethnic or religious
groups and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Education facilitates more effective participation in a society and people’s ability to form
an opinion of their own. It also facilitates persons to contribute to the quality of the
Everyone has the right to equal chances of access to elementary, fundamental and all
forms of higher education (HE). Primary and secondary education must be compulsory.
The standard of secondary education should be such that it secures access to higher
education. There should not be any discrimination and higher education institutions
(HEIs) and governments should provide equal chances to everyone. The opportunity to
gain a qualification is not the prime reason why there should be equal access to HE but to
exercise the possibility to develop as an individual.
ESIB believes that tuition fees promote inequality in access to HE and as such makes
higher education a privilege to a limited number of people, not a right for everyone. Thus
ESIB believes that access to HE is a right and therefore higher education has to be a
public service, without fees and thus free.
ESIB asserts that a safe working environment ought to be a basic human right. All
students should have the right to facilities, services and financial resources in educational
programs of their choice. These facilities must be provided free from barriers of physical,
structural or attitudinal nature. There is a need for adequate infrastructure to promote
equality of education for all students including disabled students. This does not only
concern the visible disabilities but also the hidden ones, hearing impediment, dyslexia
etc. Proper student health conditions, both physical and mental, must also be secured and
provided for. It should be the responsibility of HEIs to secure the safety of students
during all academic activities. In this regard HEIs must ensure that all students are
insured for the duration of all aspects of study.
It must be the goal of every HEI to provide the staff and students with both quality study
space and working environment. Lack of facilities must not prevent students opportunity
to study. Material conditions such as reading material, laboratories, library resources and
information and communications technology (ICT) facilities for teaching staff and
students need to be continuously improved. This should be done in order to provide equal
opportunities within HEIs and to secure the quality of education. The form and substance
of education, including curricula and teaching methods must be student oriented. In this
regard, as with all other aspects of HE, students and authorities of HEIs must
communicate in order to create a better study environment.
All students have the right to study in any of the languages commonly used in their
country of residence. Every effort must also be made to promote diversity of access and
experiences of education for all members of society, irrespective of, but not limited to,
such factors as political conviction, religion, ethnicity, cultural origin, sexual orientation,
gender, social standing or disabilities. Every effort must be made to promote involvement
of foreign students in HE. This must include offering courses in different languages but
also other measures are needed. It should also be the responsibility of providers of HE to
take the appropriate measures in order to guarantee access to all levels of education for
all minority groups.
Education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and
communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural
settings. It should be the responsibility of HEIs to have a critical insight to changes in the
society but not to be regulated by them.
Other economic, social and cultural rights
ESIB believes the economic, social and cultural rights of students must be further
developed and strengthened. These rights are necessary for the exercise of the civil and
political rights and as such form a vital tenet in HE. Therefore, governments and
international organisations must focus more on economic, social and cultural rights, for
example the right of free choice and access of employment during and after the studies.
Every government and HEI must encourage the diversity of cultures and languages in the
HEI. This for example facilitates mobility of students between countries and thereby
cultures. To ensure such mobility, welfare entitlements must be designed so that foreign
students too can exercise their right to education. Therefore, students rights must be met
whether they study in their own country or another. Foreign degree students must be
allowed to fully take part in the welfare support of the hosting country. This includes all
the in kind services, such as health care, housing, subsidised food, cheaper transportation
and other. In general, it does not necessarily include, however, the social grants given to
the domestic students. In that case, these should be taken care of by the home country
government. All forms of domestic social support to students must be fully transferable to
abroad. Further, a foreign degree student must be entitled to the same rights as domestic
students in fields of labour legislation, educational rights and any other.
ESIB demands the enforcement of the economic, social and cultural rights to be as
efficient and effective as for the civil and political rights, both on a national and on an
international level. ESIB thus requires that individuals be given efficient and effective
remedies, when the economic, social or cultural human rights are claimed to be violated.
Other civil and political rights
Students and student organisations have the right to freedom of expression. Higher
education institutions are crucial forums of free expression. This right includes freedom
to hold opinions, to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by
others. This means that nobody has the right to forbid students and student organisations
from expressing their opinions. ESIB also asserts the rights to organise, assemble and
The student organisations must be autonomous and free of all external manipulation and
interference for example from the part of the HEI. It is a right of students, and student
organisations, to have the freedom to make certain decisions about their private affairs
without unsolicited interference.
Universities and other institutions keep records of our academic and personal progress.
This information should be limited to absolute minimum and used only for their
administrated purposes. Students must have free access to their records.
Students are an equally important and integral part of HEI community. Students must be
seen as partners who are in the centre of interest of the HEI. Student representatives must
be elected in a democratic way by the students.
Students have the right to have an equal input in all issues concerning them at all the
levels of decision making. At institution level, students must have the right to take part in
decision making as equal partners in all issues. This right has to be enshrined in law. At
national and international levels students must have the right to participate in the
preparation, implementation and evaluation of decisions concerning students including
education and student welfare and any other affairs that students see relevant.
One of the goals of education, and HE in particular, is to encourage the development of
active, critical and constructive citizens. Democratic academic community and student
organisations are important places to develop and exercise these qualities. Therefore a
democratic relationship between the administration of HEIs, staff, students and student
organisations has greater importance in the creation of an ethos of democracy than just
being the system to administrate all these organisations.
Right to participate in HEI concerns all members of the institution, the professors, other
staff and students. The basic facilities of democracy have to be developed in order to
ensure good governance. These basic facilities include access to information, free media
and efficient flow of information between the representatives and those represented,
transparency of administration and training of representatives in methods and substance.
The Role of Student Organisations
Student organisations have the responsibility to promote educational and welfare rights
for students and potential students. In order to enforce and observe these rights, student
organisations must be recognised by the law and they must be seen as competent to act in
courts on behalf of the students.
Representative student organisations must be democratic and transparent to allow all
individual students to exercise their rights to take part in its processes and projects.
Student organisations are fundamental tools for the individual student to participate in the
decision making process in the HEIs.
Student organisations have a responsibility to engender a culture of activity by and
among its members. This is important not only to ensure legitimate decisions based on
student reality but also to promote the culture of active, critical and constructive
participation. Student organisations must also stimulate the awareness of what particular
needs students have in respect of their rights by informing the students themselves, the
institutions, the authorities and the society in general.
Student organisations ought to show solidarity on both national and international levels.
Solidarity is a support which has to be given to groups and individuals in all cases of
repression and violation of student rights and human rights. Student organisations must
be concerned with the prevention of such repression and violations.
Solidarity is based on mutual respect, the demands and needs of those asking for it and
the opportunities for those who engage in it. In this respect showing solidarity is both a
right and a duty of students and should never stop at any border. There is a clear need for
the solidarity network on the European and International level. It should be voluntarily
based for exchanging information and plans about different projects and campaigns.
Human rights are student rights. A right is a moral entitlement, more than want or desire,
that every person ought to have; it is not something you can gain or loose. Violations of
these rights concern students as well as other individuals. Therefore students and student
organisations must promote human rights and tackle any obstacles to these fundamental