The Shared Challenges of European Students

Travel broadens the mind, they say. That was also the case this time: an Irish university, not dissimilar to Hogwarts, with 17,000 students, the daffodils of spring and education policy – an amazing combination to start off the spring of a student union activist. The three day European Students’ Convention was organised in rainy Galway. At this international convention, we discussed the accessibility of education and the effects of Brexit.

Brexit and women’s rights were hot topics in Ireland

“How can we get students with children/international students/immigrants/… involved in the student organisation” – questions that all those involved in organisations can probably relate to. Well, if it’s any consolation, this problem is shared by student organisations all over Europe. At the congress, we also discussed a more wide-reaching problem: the number of university students from lower socio-economic backgrounds is minimal. This is also the case in Finland, even though education is free for students from EU- and EEA-countries!

Us visitors to the university discussed Brexit over our cups of coffee – how much will the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU affect student exchange, for example? The Brits are included in the Erasmus-network, they are doing EU-funded research, there are many ongoing projects, and hundreds of young Finnish people apply to study in the UK every year. At the moment it is easy to travel and cooperate within the EU – but what will it be like in the future?

The final day of the convention was on International Women’s Day. By the gates of the university, people opposing abortions were shouting in front of huge placards that abortion is murder and that “true feminists” oppose emergency contraception. The Irish constitution states that the life of a foetus is as valuable as the life of a woman – abortion is illegal, but it is allowed to travel abroad to have an abortion. If a woman is not allowed or able to leave the country, however, the only remaining options are keeping the child or having a home abortion, which can be fatal for the woman. At least student organisations all over Ireland are marching for the rights of women.

The European Students’ Convention opened my eyes to what it is like being a student in other countries and in my own country. It is easier to see what is close by when you look at it from afar. Who is it who gets in to university here? What can students do to promote education equality? When planning the new vision for higher education (https://www.strategysignals.com/39146-31944-7@visio&2030), should there be more of a focus on the accessibility of education? At least in Finland we should look out to the world with an open mind – maybe someone else has done things better than us somewhere else.

 

Minna Suorsa, HYY board member

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