In the everyday life of the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL), the EU is present more often than one might think. Few of the topics discussed on a national level are relevant only to Finland. Lifelong learning, marginalisation and radicalisation are challenges common to all of Europe. To understand both challenges and their solutions, one needs to delve deep into EU-level policies. In this blog, I will write about some topical debates on EU policy that we at SYL find important.
For the European student
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a Slovenian conference hall discussing and debating trends in European education policy. At that time, I was representing SYL at the 74th Board Meeting of the European Students’ Union, together with the awesome Petra Laiti, Teemu Vasama and Maria Nyroos.
The ESU Board Meeting was the first of its kind for all of us. Despite that, I am happy with our results. A knowledgeable and experienced EU lobbyist – Adam Gajek from Poland – was elected President. We were happy with the other election results as well. Accomplished Katrina Koppel from Estonia as well as enthusiastic Robert Napier from Malta were elected Vice Presidents.
We also got deep into the core of European education policy. One of the major themes of the ESU Board Meeting was defining ESU’s position on the European Commission’s initiative for a European Education Area.
From labour market policy to a broader entity
The initiative for a European Education Area was introduced at the end of 2017 at the EU leadership meeting in Gothenburg. The initiative strongly reflects a change in the way the EU views education policy. Its earlier view, very much influenced by labour market policy, has been updated with social justice and strengthening a European identity. This is a positive change. It is important that EU decisionmakers recognise that education also lays the foundation for equal opportunities and builds a more cohesive and stable Europe.
The EU has many ways in which it wants to promote these objectives by the year 2025. The EU wants to broaden the Erasmus+ programme to better encompass underrepresented groups, such as EU citizens from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The EU also wants to further student mobility by improving the recognition of second cycle degrees. In other words, this could mean that a Finnish matriculation examination would be better recognised as proof of eligibility for higher education in all of the EU. The Commission also wants to invest in lifelong learning, the digitalisation of teaching as well as language skills. We take a positive view on all of these.
Through Brexit, many world class universities will also be excluded from the EU. Safeguarding high-quality basic research and research cooperation is a challenge the EU needs to find a solution for. To fix this, the Commission has suggested establishing European university networks. When founding these networks, it is important to remember that the best cooperation builds on the needs of the higher education institutions themselves. The number of higher education institutions taking part in the networks also needs to be high enough so that not just a handful of European students and researchers take part.
What about the immediate future?
Also the EU’s multiannual financial framework for the years 2021–2027 was published by the Commission a week ago and reflects the investments in education. The EC proposes to double the funding for the Erasmus+ mobility programme, which already has provided 2 million Europeans with the opportunity for even a short period of exchange. The budget proposal also proposes to increase funding of research by about 50 per cent. If these raises are implemented, it would mean very welcome additional funding for European top research.
Investing in student mobility, education, and research are not only an investment in competence and competitiveness, but also a way to build a more stable and equal Europe – one of the core missions of the EU. This is something young people both wish for and benefit from, as in particular young people see themselves as EU citizens and Europeans.
A functioning European Union is therefore the very best generational policy. Particularly on this Europe Day, I hope that the representatives of the member states and the members of the European Parliament keep this in mind when negotiating the budget and collaborating on a European level.
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