1999 Policy Paper “Student Welfare into the New Millennium”

11.02.2011
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Introduction

ESIB (The National Unions of Students in Europe) considers the budgetary cuts in
expenditure for higher education in European countries are endangering the welfare of
students. Because of the budget cuts, students have to face problems concerning finances,
housing and mobility.

There is a danger of decreasing quality in higher education because on one hand the
institutions of higher education have less money and on the other hand students have to
work to afford to study and consequently they can not spend enough time on studying.

It is a fundamental citizens´ right to have ´free and equal access to higher education
independent of social and economical background. The governments should recognise
their obligation to be the primary investors in higher education and student welfare thus
recognising the great importance of higher education in creating a society with equal
opportunities for all sit citizens. Next to society as a whole the major beneficiaries of
higher education are the students and the industry. All the beneficiaries have a role to
play in the student welfare system.

Students should be seen as individual and autonomous citizens. Thus society should
recognise the individual needs of students and take the responsibility to establish
supporting systems offering each student possibilities to choose between a variety of
possible solutions (e.g. housing, health, etc).

It’s important that people with different needs, for example disabled students or students
with children, can have equal opportunity to access to higher education as people without
these needs. Government should consider the needs of these people in higher education.

 

Diving into student welfare

Society should first and foremost focus on securing the basic needs of students:
accommodation, health care, food, study material and other equipment necessary for
studying. If a student chooses to stay with his/her family it must be according to a free
choice of his/her own. To make this possible society must create real possibilities for
students who want to get a life of their own.

Within student welfare there are a lot of actors on different levels. The levels of these
actors are world-, international umbrella organisations within a continent, nations,
provinces, cities, institutions and students themselves. Coherence between these different
levels and within the levels is of utmost importance. Because of the amount of actors and
the substantial coherence between the different parts of student welfare (like between
student financing and housing) clear rules and transparency of the policies of the actors is
needed.

International umbrella organisations (e.g. UNESCO) must show their support and
solidarity with students through supporting countries who strive to fulfil students basic
needs and through putting pressure on those countries who do not recognise this
responsibility. The international umbrella organisations must have agreements on the
support of countries reforming their student welfare and give guidelines and make
agreements on the definitions of the need of student welfare.

On a world level the different actors should be mostly involved in statements on the
wellbeing of students and the importance of equal access to (higher) education.

The European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (CoE) have a task in improving the
position of students in advisory committees concerning student welfare by urging and
checking the member states on the participatory level of students in the different
organisation concerning student welfare. Best practices of parts of the student welfare
systems within different countries should be discussed by the EU and CoE as a way to
strengthen each other.

The national governments are the main actors in student welfare. The government is
responsible for a good financial support system for students. But that does not mean that
students can not use the possibilities offered by corporations. However corporations can
never replace the government as the main actor in student welfare.

A survey on a regular basis about the need of students concerning student welfare makes
sure that the government can react on the changing needs of students. Not only in the
making of this survey students must be involved but also in all processes of decision
making concerning the measures taken by institutions who are responsible for student
welfare.

 

It’s all about money

The whole educational experience incorporates a study financing system. It is the full
responsibility of the state to ensure that all people can access higher education. The aim
of all study financing systems is to ensure the students right to autonomy, therefore
financial support systems need to remain flexible to guarantee that all can access higher
education.

ESIB believes that a full and adequate maintenance grant during the whole year, also
holidays, is the correct and proper study financing system. Any governments attempt to
deplete or remove the grant is strongly condemned by ESIB. In some situations where
governments are suffering from extreme hardships, ESIB understands that the
introduction of loans can improve students’ access to higher education. However as soon
as the situation improves, a grant system should be introduced immediately, either or not
in combination with loans. Student welfare issue is a social support question and thus
student grades should not affect on the amount of financial aid a student can get. Student
welfare should be based on needs not on achievements.

Students loans repayments and interest cost should be set in a way that it will not
discourage anyone to participate in higher education. Interest rates , if they can’t be
avoided, should be lower than market rates and more predictable. Repayment should take
into consideration the income of the student. The repayments should end after a certain
amount of time. If graduates can not pay back their loans because of a low income they
should not carry their burden with them forever.

Fees and other payments made by the student in higher education are causing a social
selection within the accessibility of higher education. ESIB considers it very important
that higher education is made possible for all social classes. Therefore education at all
levels must be provided free for all students.

Students should be able to finance their studies without working. If students must work it
may decrease the quality of education and extend the study period. Students who choose
to work must work under transparent conditions. This means that there must be a wellworking
structure and information about jobs must be provided. However working
experiences within the student’s field of studies can be valuable. Students who are
obliged to work because of their financial position or their education face a lack of jobs,
especially qualified. An institute should be responsible for arranging these jobs. The
wages and other working conditions should be satisfactory. If students are earning money
through holiday work and part time jobs besides their studies, there will be no reduction
of grants or loans.

 

A roof without leakage

Accommodation is a basic right and need for everybody including students. Student
housing is facing problems all over Europe. There are not enough dormitories or student
houses and they are often in bad condition. Student dormitories and student houses
should be built to answer to the demand. It should not be a barrier to get into education
that you are not able to find or afford a place to live. Dormitories and student houses
should also be provided to students with special needs for example disabled students,
students with health problems and students with children.

When there are not enough student dormitories and/or student houses the government
should encourage the private market to invest in the building and renting of cheap student
housing. The government is responsible for the regulating of the price of student housing
especially the one that gets public funding. Then students who pay too much for a roof
above their head can go to court assisted where necessary by the national or local student
unions. For students who can not get a place in dormitory or a student house should
receive a special housing supplement to cover part of the rent they have to pay extra in
the private market.

Living standards in dormitories must be improved and they should be reasonable
comparing to other groups of people in the society. Students have the right to privacy and
the lack of it affects studying. Sufficient amount of study room and social areas should be
provided in the dormitories and student houses.

 

Students on the move

The lack of equal access to the mobility programmes is still a common problem due to
too low grants. Absence of sufficient information and lack of financial support has made
many students passive and indifferent towards mobility. The mobility programmes will
only become more accessible when the supportive grants on travelling and living
expenses are covered.

Where possible international organisations should be more specific on the needs of
students and guaranty the mobility of students between member states of these
organisations. They should guarantee the students that they are not at a financial
disadvantage to the students of the host country. To encourage the mobility of Centraland
Eastern European students from these countries should have a special status within
the European Union so these students can receive special welfare for studying abroad.

 

Other basic needs

There is a trend of profit health insurance companies taking over certain parts of the
health care security and services. ESIB considers it a government responsibility to secure
the basic health care of its citizens. In case of health insurance is needed students should
have access to inexpensive heath insurance. They should also have special health services
in order to deal with typical problems students have. An institution should provide
students with information about diseases, hygiene and prevention.

It is necessary for efficient studying to have special students restaurants with low prices
and healthy food. There should be a student transportation card and support for students
who must spend resources on transportation between home and study. An international
discount student card should provide students of Europe with equal access to fixed
student reductions in all the European countries.

 

Conclusion

A good student financing system is one of the key factors in a good education system.
ESIB considers it of utmost importance that everybody is given the same opportunity to
study, no matter what his/her social position is. Students must be closely involved in the
making and updating of the student welfare system.

As adult students should be seen as individual and autonomous citizens., To achieve the
independence of the students the amount of benefits must be sufficient for students to live
and take part in normal life. The best way to define the basic costs for students is through
researches of students´ average living costs.

ESIB states that free education at all levels and good student welfare system are essential
to ensure the equal access to education.

 

adopted at BM 37, October 1999, Cyprus

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