The European Union is undergoing major change. Climate change, extremism, economic crises, intensifying competition between major powers and the Covid-19 pandemic threaten everything we know. At the same time, however, new opportunities are also emerging. Bringing about the green transition and digitalisation is a good start, but change can also be considered more broadly. What kind of Europe do we want to live in decades from now?
This week, on Europe Day, 9 May 2021, the Conference on the Future of Europe will be officially launched, encouraging citizens of all European Union member states to discuss the future of the union. The conference will include a digital platform for discussion as well as events across Europe and online. The conference will run until the spring of 2022, after which a final report on the results will be presented to the presidents of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council.
Students must participate actively in the discussions and help shape the EU as they would like to see it. Otherwise, talk of education and skills will remain rhetoric rather than become reality. Students and young people are the group that is building this continent. We need to be involved where real decisions are made.
Much progress has been made in EU education policy in recent decades. There are more and more Erasmus exchanges, and research is increasingly supported through the Horizon programme. There is still room for improvement, however. Since Brexit, none of the world’s top 30 universities are in the European Union. And it is still difficult to have a degree obtained in one EU country recognised in another, despite the Bologna process having already gone on for decades.
The EU plays an important role in the daily lives of universities and students. The Erasmus programme is one of the most successful European projects, and has enabled mobility for millions of young people. The Erasmus+ budget has almost doubled for the new programme period 2021–2027, allowing more students to travel and study internationally. It is particularly important as we try to recover from the damage inflicted by the Covid-19 crisis in terms of student mobility and internationalisation.
In everyday life, however, the EU can seem like an inaccessible and distant concept, especially for students who are confined to their student housing in the midst of the pandemic. It is all too easy to be put off by the intimidating idea that in order to be able to form any opinion on the EU, one would need to be well versed in the workings of the EU institutions and their treaties. That is the wrong attitude. What is needed now is vision. What kind of Europe do you want to live in? Officials and politicians can take care of the rest.
I challenge every student to envision future education and skills during the Conference on the Future of Europe. Will we all be studying for a European degree in a future European network of universities? What would the study look like if, in addition to the courses at one’s own university, one could also take courses from a French or Bulgarian university, for example? Digitalisation has enormous potential alongside traditional mobility.
Below are a few books, podcasts and events I chose to help me get started on my own in learning about the European Union and how it works. Hopefully these will also help those who don’t know where to begin!
- A basic work on the EU, Heli Satuli
- Euroopan parlamentti, Satu Helin and Pekka Nurminen
- Komissaari, Erkki Liikanen
- Kuilun partaalta, Olli Rehn
- Euroopan ytimessä, Jan Store
- Europe Day 9 May 2021 (Programme 7–9 May 2021)
- European Forum 25–27 August 2021