2001 Policy Paper “Student participation in the European Higher Education area”
Recent years have seen the gradual movement of education from being a purely national concern towards strengthened co-operation and approximation on the international level. The events that have taken place after the signing of the Sorbonne and later Bologna declarations have further sped up this process.
In the early steps of the process, students were not listened to. Though recent developments have shown the importance of, and the need to listen to the students’ voice, there are still areas where students are not listened to.
The Higher Education community
The Higher Education community is composed of the higher education institutions and students. They are an equal partner in a relationship of symbiosis.
Even if the government has the political responsibility for higher education, the stakeholders of HE, especially the representatives of the HEI’s and the representatives of students are essential actors of HE and have the right to contribute decisively to the policies and changes. This goes for all levels, from programmes to transnational institutions and from local to international. Higher education institutions must therefore be democratic in their function and take the views of the stakeholders into account.
Students must be listened to as equal partners and not treated merely as consumers. Students take part in shaping new policies, enhancing quality and contributing to the overall improvement of the education. In order to be able to do this, however, the students need legislation to protect them from being treated unfairly for expressing their opinions.
The student organisations
Student organisations should meet certain criteria in order to represent students. Student organisations should be open to all students, democratic in their structure and in their principles, run by students, independent and accountable to the students they represent. Organisations that do not meet these basic
demands must not be accepted as representatives of students.
The European level
The amount of recognition that has been given to the students’ views in recent times has increased tremendously and ESIB wants this trend to continue. As co-operation on educational issues keeps increasing, so should the students’ influence on the process.
There are however forums or institutions dealing with education where the students have not been included at all. The current talks on inclusion of education in the GATS treaty are one of the current and most striking examples. It is of vital importance that the students as well as the Higher Education Institutions are involved in all discussions affecting higher education.
Student involvement is a key factor for the development of a diverse, high quality and democratic Higher Education. Student organisations should be representative of their members through democratic structures and transparency. ESIB has always, and will continue working in this direction.