European Students' Union (ESU)

What is ESU?

The European Students’ Union is a membership organisation of national unions of students in Europe. It has 47 members from 39 different countries.

Through its members ESU represents over 20 million students in Europe. Its headquarters are in Brussels. The overall aim of ESU is to represent and promote the educational, social, economic and cultural interests of students at a European level,

By working with ESU, NUS is able to contribute to debate and influence the European Union, the Bologna Follow Up group, the Council of Europe and UNESCO. ESU is also a member of the European Youth Forum.

ESU have a vision of equal educational and social opportunities in an open and democratic Europe where students work together to shape a sustainable future.

NUSUK was one of the founder members of an organisation called the Western European Students’ Information Bureau (WESIB), the idea was to meet together and exchange ideas, good practice and information.

This was in contrast to meetings of what was known as the European Meeting which was dominated, at that time, by Soviet ideology making it very difficult to come to any agreement on anything. WESIB was created at a meeting of western European national student organisations on 18 October.

The headquarters were originally based in the NUSUK offices on Holloway Road. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 eastern European student organisations began to join and WESIB became ESIB, at this point the focus was still on sharing information.

However, 1999 saw the creation of the European Higher Education Area, the “Bologna Process” and so in response to this ESIB established committees to look at specific issues and took on more of an advocacy role, by 2001 ESIB was recognised as a key stakeholder in the Bologna Process. In 2007 ESIB, in recognition of its greater representative role, changed its name to the European Students’ Union. In 2012 the organisation celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

ESU is a democratic organisation, the overall policy and direction is agreed at Board Meetings which take place twice a year. The Board consists of representatives from all the member NUS organisations.

These delegates elect an Executive Committee each year along with a Chairperson and two Vice Chairs (these are paid positions). These offices are supported in their work by a Quality Assurance Steering Committee which focusses on educational quality throughout Europe, an Ethic Minorities Group and a Commission for Internal Audit which monitors finance and governance issues.

There are also three appointed Co-ordinators who cover Human Rights and Solidarity, Membership and Equalities they are all supported by a small staff secretariat.

The new elected officers are:

President Helge Schwitters
Vice Chairperson Adam Gajek (Poland)
Vice Chairperson Caroline Sundberg (Sweden)
Executive members Chiara Patricolo (Italy)
Aleksandar Šušnjar (Croatia)
Filip Prihoda (Czech Republic)
Gohar Hovhannisyan (Armenia)
João Pedro Estêvão Martins (Portugal) 
Katrina Koppel (Estonia)
Yolanda Trujillo Adriá (Spain)

In addition to Board Meetings ESU holds the European Students’ Convention a non-voting discussion forum that through debates and workshops and speakers allows members to exchange good practice and develop their own thinking around policies. 

What does ESU do?

ESU clusters its work in three key areas:

  • Representation and Advocacy
  • Research and Concept Development
  • Capacity Building and Information Exchange

The agreed, collective policies centre around higher education and international policy, access and support (the social dimension), public responsibility for education liked to governance and funding, quality and transparency which is linked to structural reform, academic affairs and student centred learning, mobility and internationalisation.

ESU is a member of numerous working groups seeking to develop educational opportunities across Europe. In particular they are members of the Bologna Follow Up Group which meets at least twice a year.

Every three years the opportunity arises to influence the European Ministerial Conference at which elected Ministers responsible for education agree collaborative projects.

This year sees a review of the Bologna Process at the Ministerial Meeting in Yerevan, Armenia. NUSUK will be making sure that our support for greater student mobility is heard through our ESU representatives.

ESU also have regular contact with the Education and Culture Committee of the European Commission, the European Council and Parliament and numerous sub committees and working groups, making sure that student concerns expressed through the member NUS organisations are heard.

In addition to contacts with UNESC and the OECD ESU is able to influence the European Association for Quality Assurance (ENQA), European Association of Institutions of Higher Education (EURASHE), the European University Association (EUA), Business Europe and the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR).

ESU is involved in funded research around student funding (FINST), concepts of quality and quality assurance (QUEST – sparqs were involved in the course representative training the trainers element of this project), employability (SAGE) and student centred learning (PASCL).

ESU are also the lead partner in Enhancing Student Participation in Quality Assurance in Armenia (ESPAQ), sparqs are also consultants for this project.

ESU publish a range of publications on quality assurance, student centered learning and equality, in particular:  

  • Bologna with Student Eyes – a review of the Bologna experience from a student’s perspective, the first was published in 2005, the latest in 2012 – a new volume is in preparation
  • Quality Assurance – a report from the QUEST project
  • A compendium on student funding models

ESU’s final area of work concerns capacity building for student organisations, this work is carried out at Conventions, training events and seminars.

ESU also co-ordinates European wide campaigns on education in the lead up to European Parliamentary elections, International Students’ Day, Equal Pay Day and LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning).

Why ESU does it?

NUSUK realises that if we are to effect positive change around education, social justice, sustainability and peace then we need to work in partnership with students on a global basis, we cannot do it alone.

The more we, as students, work with our peers in Europe and beyond, the more we share our values and positive visions for the future the better able we are to bring about the changes we want to see.

There are numerous ways in which we can help each other out and demonstrate solidarity on those issue that unite us all. The Norwegian government are proposing to introduce tuition fees, our National President Toni Pearce has sent a message of solidarity; there is a student housing crisis in the Netherlands, crippling levels of youth unemployment in Spain and a highly hostile environment for LGBT people in Lithuania, if we work in solidarity we can bring about to change, together we are stronger.


The lead officer on our relationships with the European Students’ Union is Beth Button, President, NUS Wales. Click here to download a presentation on how we work with the ESU.

Latest news

Student representatives from across Europe gathered in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, for their 32nd European Student Convention between 30th September and 2nd October to reflect on education and skills for the future of Europe.

The conference focused on 3 main themes: 
•    the interlinks between formal, non-formal and informal learning
•    recognition of education as an instrument to broaden participation in education and communities
•    students’ views on employability and skills policies

Through interactive workshops and informal discussions, student activists reflected, among others, on ways forward the EU New Skills Agenda for Europe and the implementation of Erasmus+ and Council of Europe’s Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic culture.

Education - between short-term interest and societal needs ?
One of the recurring themes among students has been the tension between education and the labour market, as well as how formal learning and non formal learning should and could combine. A general agreement was that the role of education is to provide learners with competences and skills to understand the job and its future developments, instead of focusing on specific short-term needs of the labour market.

“We need to have a critical approach on what student and graduate data we actually need and what it is used for. There is a need for evidence-based policies, but there is also the danger of policy-based evidence. Employability should be seen as a much broader concept than preparing students for their dream job that will most likely not be stable throughout their lifetime.” says Lea Meister, President, European Students’ Union

The question of extremism and radicalisation

Although the issue may differ in nature, in many European countries the rise of radicalisation and extremism stirs the debate on the need for active citizenship education and human rights awareness. Ways to combat radicalisation bring about the debate on where to draw the line between free speech and intimidation.

“We need more transversal skills, fair recognition of skills, including those of refugees and to think more form a lifelong learning perspective. We need more flexibility in study pathways and more steps towards student-centred learning. In the future, we hope to see more cooperation among student unions across the world to advance our common student struggles.” says Blazhe Todorovski, Vice President, European Students’ Union

The European Students' Convention (ESC) is a biannual event organised by ESU where students’ representatives from the national unions of students from 38 different European countries, other stakeholders, experts and policy-makers have the opportunity to meet and discuss about the recent and future developments of higher education. 

ESU usually organises the ESC in the country which is holding the presidency of the council of the European Union at that point of time, in order to create synergies with the country presidency’s priorities on education, or in another country/city with a significant relevance for Europe as a whole.

For more information, please feel free to consult the event webpage


NUSUK delegation on the 70th board meeting of the ESU

The European Students’ Union (ESU) holds two Board Meetings (BM) per year that consists of representatives from member national union of students from across Europe. The event was also linked to a seminar on developing the Global Student Voice through signing a collective declaration (see separate report). The event was hosted by NSO (NUS in Norway) in the City of Bergen.

You can read the report from this meeting here.

69th ESU Board Meeting - November/December 2015

The ESU Board Meeting (BM) is the sovereign body of the European Students’ Union and it meets twice a year in late November/December and May. The BM is always preceded by a seminar on a subject chosen by the host NUS. The subject chosen by ANOSR (NUS in Romania) was New trends in Quality Assurance. This meeting saw over 100 representatives from 38 European countries discuss this matter.

You can report the report from this meeting here.

Convention 31: The modernisation of higher education in Europe

There are two meetings of the European Students’ Convention a year. The 31st European Students’ Convention was organised by LSVb (the Dutch National Student Union) and ISO (the Dutch National Student Association). The conference coincided with the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which runs between January and June 2016.

You can read the report from this meeting here.

Students welcome new EU Visa Directive as a step forward in increasing higher education internationalisation

Tibor Navracsics encourages students and higher education to lead the way in promoting solidarity throughout Europe