The European Students’ Union (ESU) is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students’ from 39 European countries (December 2012). ESU promotes and represents the educational, social, economic and cultural interests of 11 million students to all key European decision-making bodies: the European Union, Council of Europe, UNESCO and the Bologna Follow Up Group. Throughout the years, ESU has witnessed many internal and external changes while continuously developing itself to what it is right now: a professional advocacy and capacity building organisation that is influential and recognised as an important stakeholder at the European and international level.
Besides representing the views, needs and perspectives of European students, ESU aims to ensure and strengthen students’ participation and to increase the student input into higher education policy and decision making at the local, national and European level. ESU promotes a higher education system based on the values of quality, equity and accessibility for all. Another important aim for ESU is to be renowned and respected as a source of expertise on higher education policy at all institutional levels and to build links and foster an exchange of information, ideas and experiences among students and student platforms at a regional and global level.
Delegations from the 47 national unions of students meet during ESU events that take place four times a year. The meetings give delegates the opportunity to meet face-to-face and create strength and unity. The most important meeting is the bi-annual Board Meeting which is the highest decision making body of ESU. During this meeting, ESU representatives are elected and policy priorities are decided upon. Each board meeting is preceded by a high-level seminar (the European Students’ Convention - ESC) to build knowledge and skills on a relevant topic. In 2010, these topics were the linkage between the Lisbon Agenda and the Bologna Process and student centred learning. The bi-annual ESCs are packed with training sessions, workshops and seminars to help unions both function better internally and perform better externally.
ESU regularly produces publications, such as the Student Centred Learning Toolkit (published in 2010) and provides training to increase the knowledge of the national students’ unions and provide them with valuable tools for their work. All written materials are provided free of charge, while attendance at training is heavily subsidised through projects that are mainly funded by the European Commission.
From WESIB to ESU
ESU was founded in 1982 by seven national unions of students (NSU Norway, NUS-UK, SFS Sweden, SHÍ Iceland, UNEF-ID France, DSF Denmark and ÖH Austria) and back then was called WESIB, the West European Student Information Bureau. The political changes in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s affected WESIB as well, as it opened up itself to national unions of students from the former east.
In February 1990, WESIB dropped the “W” to become the European Student Information Bureau (ESIB). As the European Communities started to gain more influence on higher education in Europe and certainly with the start of the Bologna Process, the objective from just an information sharing organisation changed into to a political organisation that represents the views and interests of students.
In May 2007 it was decided that ESIB needed to change its name as the ESIB acronym no longer represented the work of the organization and ESIB changed its name into the European Students' Union (ESU).