Monday 16-05-2016 - 16:10
NUS Scotland Vice President Education Rob Henthorn reports back on his experience at the European Students' Union's 'Board Meeting.'
NUS is not alone. Across the world, students’ unions form national organisations like NUS UK to lobby governments at a national level and support their member unions to carry out national work. But as the EU referendum debate is reminding us, important political work is carried out even beyond the level of national governments, and it has a profound effect on our education system and the lives of students
To make sure we have a say in decisions taken at an EU level, NUS UK is a member of the European Students’ Union ‘ESU’. And last week, national student unions from countries across Europe came together at the University of Bergen in Norway, for ESU’s 70th Board Meeting.
The UK delegation consisted of myself and Beth Button (President, NUS Wales), along with staff support from Katie Shaw (Policy Manager) and Mike Day (Director of Devolved Nations and Internationalism). Across three long and very intense days, we debated issues ranging from the quality and standards of university teaching implemented through the Bologna Process, to internships and the role of industry in the HE sector, to the social responsibility that our institutions have to build a better world.
Our delegation made particular contributions in the area of social responsibility, writing and passing a motion on Environmental Sustainability which will see ESU facilitate work between NUSs to fight climate change. Beth also successfully proposed a motion on furthering women’s representation within ESU and its member NUSs, and we strongly backed the call for an ESU Task Force on Campaigning to lead a HE funding campaign. We were also delighted to lend our votes to the unanimously-supported Bergen Declaration – a statement on educational rights and opportunities, calling for a global student voice – written by national students’ unions from 6 continents.
But why is it important to discuss these matters with national unions of students from across Europe? ESU is well placed to support us in achieving our aims around widening access and liberating the curriculum because they have a voice in the Bologna Follow up Group (BFuG), which aims to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications in the European Higher Education Area. The ideas and positions we discuss here at the ESU Board meeting become ESU policy, and it is this policy and approach that ESU representatives will advocate on our behalf. If they are successful, then the policy will go forward as recommendations to the next European Higher Education Area Ministerial Meeting (Paris 2018), where the policy will hopefully form the next work plan for BFuG – which in turn sets the agenda for British higher education for the next three years.
That sounds all very technical and complicated – and it is! But that’s why NUS UK’s membership of ESU is so important: we get to engage with high-level discussions on the future of education taking place between governments and HE sectors across Europe, and do so on the basis of collectivism and solidarity between students everywhere. Whatever our culture or tongue, our universities and our unions have a common language – a language of education as a public good, of students and academics designing quality together, and the social purpose of higher learning. Through ESU, we are living out our values of internationalism and student power.
As well as debates on policy and internal business, this Board Meeting also saw the annual election of ESU’s leadership. For the first time in many years, a delegate from NUS UK was elected to serve as a member of ESU’s Executive Committee. Beth Button topped the ballot for one of the 3 reserved women’s places, so will next year work alongside the other 6 EC members and the newly elected Chair and Vice-Chairs. Huge congratulations to Beth, and all those elected, and best of luck for the year of work ahead of them!
At a time when the UK’s place in European politics is under threat from reactionary conservatism, our participation in organisations like ESU is vital. I am proud to represent NUS and our members as we take part in the difficult and technical work around the Bologna Process, because it is through these focused negotiations and lobbying attempts that we strengthen the collective power of our movement across the continent. With the learning and sharing we did in Bergen, I arrive back in Scotland filled with confidence that students can be powerful together, and that our unions have a bright vision for a truly international future.