BM84: Strengthening student representation within the framework of the European Alliances of Higher Education Institutions
After almost 4 years since creation and experimentation and with the results of the
fourth call soon to be published, the European Students’ Union (ESU) now urges the
European Commission and all the Alliances to commit themselves to a proper
implementation of democratic and self-established students’ representation.
In light of this challenge, in its resolution “European Universities: It Is About the
Students“  approved during the 77th Board Meeting, ESU has already stressed some
important points such as:
● Acknowledgement of the different forms of student representation inside the
● Need for all the Alliances to have a structured student representation at
alliance level, with students’ representatives (SRs) coming from all the member
universities of the Alliance;
● These Student Representatives must be directly elected by the students or
democratically appointed by the student council of their home university;
● Student Representatives need to be part of the highest decision making body
and to have the right to vote on important decisions within the alliances;
● Student Representatives need to have the funds to meet regularly;
● The creation of a student body (whether it is a council, a union, or other forms
of democratic student representation) should be a requirement in the call and
evaluation of the Alliance.
Despite students’ demands, their implementation is uneven: however, fully fledged
student participation is needed to respond to the real student demands related to
the Alliances. That is why ESU believes it is high time for next steps. Based on all the
studies that have been published and thanks to the student representatives from the alliances we are working with, we have substantial feedback which supports us in
knowing more clearly what is happening and what needs to be done.
In the Council recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher
education cooperation, the Council requested for democratic student and staff
representation, ‘taking into account the existing democratic elements of academic
self-governance’. Moreover, the burden to make these representations a reality is
shared between the Member States and the Commission. This is why ESU is calling
the Member States, the Commission but also the member universities of the Alliances
to engage themselves into this relevant topic of student representation.
Now that we know which HEIs are involved in the pilot Erasmus+ projects on the legal
status of European universities, we demand the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
involved to include student representation in the implementation of the pilot projects,
as well as in the reflection about the content of a legal status for the Alliances.
Democratic student representation should also be included as one of the
requirements in the next calls of European universities. Students are the main
stakeholder within HEIs, so they should be central in the reflection of why the Alliance
exists and how it is run. The Alliances aim to become transnational HEI, but they
cannot be that without meaningful student participation, as student participation is
at the core of the definition of what a university is in the European understanding. This
is why ESU is advocating for a strong student representation within Alliances.
Student representation at Alliance level
ESU does not call for a uniform way of representing students. But we are urging that
necessary common points have to be agreed in order to have concrete guidelines
on how to build effective and democratic student representation in the Alliances.
We insist on the fact that these bodies must be governed by democratic principles
both in their functioning and in their election system. Under no circumstances should
they be nominated or selected by the rectors’ offices, academic units responsible for
the alliance or any other institutional body.
The free and independent exercise of the functions of the Student Representatives at
the alliance level must be guaranteed by a Charter of the Rights of the Student
Representatives, adopted into each Alliance and valid for all their Student
Representatives at the Alliance level, as well as considered minimum standards for all
levels. They also should be able to receive training courses from the universities, or
from other education stakeholders, on key elements regarding the origin of the
initiative, such as EHEA, internationalisation or the functioning and objectives of the
Alliances. Member universities and the Alliances themselves must provide the
necessary information for the correct execution of Student Representative functions.
Furthermore, the right to negotiate and to have flexibility regarding their academic
responsibilities when they interfere with the exercise of their functions as
representatives must be guaranteed – so that they can fully perform their functions.
Student Representatives should be compensated for their work, with modalities which
might change between each member HEI within an alliance, but ensuring the same
treatment in terms of protection while avoiding any possible conflict of interests vis a
vis the administration of the HEIs.
Moreover, we reiterate our call to include the creation of a student body as a
requirement in the evaluation of the Alliances. Such a student body should be formed
in cooperation with democratically elected local student unions. This is important,
since there have been improvements in the requirements for student participation
with each call, those formed at the earlier stages were not requested to adapt to the
In this student representation, ESU considers that at least two Student
Representatives of any member university should be included in the representation of
the student council of the Alliance, in order for each delegation to better distribute the
tasks among themselves. In terms of coordination, it will also be important to have a
strong link between local unions and the student representatives inside of the student
body of the alliances to ensure an advocacy close to the students’ needs.
Representatives of the alliance’s student body should be full and equal members of
all the decision-making bodies of the Alliance and thus receive all documents
pertaining to how the Alliance is led and managed. It’s important to remember that
they are not only a representative for their home institution but all the students in
their alliance. Thus, under no circumstances can this be used as an argument to not
involve Student Representatives in the governing bodies of the Alliances.
The highest decision making bodies of the alliances should evolve from a Rectors’
meeting to a fully representative body, which would include all the internal
stakeholders of the Alliance (students, academic and administrative staff). Since
Students are the biggest stakeholders within the HEIs, they should have a stronger
representation within the highest decision making body of the alliance than they
currently do, as now their representation is confined to only one or two students, if
any. As a matter of competencies, Student Representatives should have all the rights
of the other members of the body, such as being able to propose agenda points to
be voted upon during meetings, having the right to speak and vote on every point
and on every step of the decision-making process and to nominate representatives
in all committees or bodies that the Alliance has, whether it’s about political or
administrative decisions. That to avoid situations where the student body is
consulted when the decision has already been taken, without involving them in the
whole process and leaving them relegated to a merely consultative or tokenistic role.
The European Universities initiative and the other attempts at creating alliances of
HEIs (including under a potential legal statute) are already modifying the life and the
study conditions of students. By being close to students’ needs, the Student
Representatives of the member universities are the best link between all levels. That’s
why ESU believes that the ESU Conference of the student bodies of the European
alliances of higher education institutions can be used as a tool for the Student
Representatives to disseminate these guidelines and good practices and to advance
democratic student representation in those Alliances where improvements are
Furthermore, ESU underlines that education must remain the core principle of the
Alliances, and that the other purposes, including political ones, must be balanced
with the right to education and transnational cooperation fostered by the Alliances.
Student representation at national level
The existence of the Alliances is not relevant only for the Alliances themselves, but for
the national Higher Education systems as a whole. As such, all the stakeholders
should be involved in the discussions about the strategic direction of a country for the
European universities, including National Unions of Students, as the only legitimate
stakeholder in terms of representing all the students at national level.
Furthermore, framework agreements between Rectors’ conferences, governments or
national university organisations on the one side, and national unions of students on
the other side could be explored to mandate the involvement of the student unions in
the student representation at the Alliance level for all the HEIs from that country.
Student representation within the Quality Assurance process for the European
The European Universities initiative is still in the process of kicking off and now the
legal statute initiative might also change the way to see Alliances. More and more
initiatives start their operations, but with that, the issue of the quality of the education
provision and the functioning of the alliances is also increasing in its relevance.
Initiatives at European level, such as the EUNIQ project, looks into how an external
Quality Assurance (QA) framework for Alliances could operate, yet many questions
are still unanswered. ESU continues to keep a firm eye on the developments of both
internal and external QA of the Alliances to highlight good practices that take place
and at the EU level to advocate for guidelines on how to build an effective internal QA
When talking about quality assurance (QA) and quality process within European
Universities alliances, a differentiation should be made between the QA of the project
in itself, as a process within the project funded by the European Commission, and the
QA of the education provision. Unfortunately, experience has shown us that Alliances
may equate the existence of a project-related QA system with an operational QA
system for the alliance and its education provision. ESU calls for the establishment of
Alliance-wide internal QA processes, with agreed standards and indicators,
designated bodies and processes. We highlight that this Alliance-level QA system
could neither replace, nor be an extension of the institutional QA managements and
systems at higher education institution level. As such, a distinct system at
Alliance-level needs to be built together with stakeholders.
The internal QA system should include students at all steps, both as experts in the QA
bodies, nominated by the student body at Alliance level, and as experts of their own
learning through input via surveys, focus groups, student partnership programmes
etc. It is important that Alliances put in place systems for electing student
representatives at programme-level, so that they can advocate for the needs and
interest of students in relation with the content and quality of the joint study
programme. At this point, ESU believes that internal QA and student participation in
internal QA should be prioritised, as a first step before creating an external QA system
together with students, which however cannot replace existing national QA
ESU is ready to support the European Commission, Higher Education Institutions and
all the alliances in creating democratically elected, effective and proper student