International Student Day. You react - What? When? Why? This is an important day for everyone. Some spend it celebrating, remembering the good old days of being a student; others celebrate the chance of having this status today. This day exists to unite many people, not just current students, around the idea of striving for change and progress, the idea of being active and caring for society, of feeling and expressing solidarity with other people, nations and parts of the world who face the collapse of democracy, personal freedom and human rights.
This date has always symbolised the moments in history when students were struggling for change and often gave their own lives for the idea of a better society. The 17th November has become the worldwide 'International Students Day' because on this day in 1939 the Czechoslovakian students fell victim to the Nazis. On 17 November 1939 the Nazis stormed the dormitories of the University in Prague. More than 1200 students were sent to concentration camps, 9 student representatives were executed on the spot, the university was shut down and the buildings were used by the German occupation forces.
Students' Movement Today:
Today students continue the struggle for their rights and for changes in the society. Individual students and student organisations across the globe world still face many challenges. We often hear of students activists detained in Africa and Asia but also in Europe (remember the spring events in Belarus when hundreds of young people were arrested); about student protests being violently stopped by the police as in the South America recently.
However, in Europe, having acquired some respect of their basic human rights, students still face huge difficulties, and their human rights are often still ignored – stemming from the restriction of access to higher education due to a number of financial and social barriers, like the introduction of tuition fees or other measures that limit access to higher education for a diaspora of groups within society. ESIB believes that education is a basic human right and must be a public good as it creates opportunities for personal self-development and thus the progress of society as a whole. We also believe that ensuring diversity in higher education and equal opportunities for studies will have a huge effect on the development of peace.
Since the middle of the 20th century students have learned to achieve their goals not only through street protests but also in board rooms, speaking and convincing “the powerful”. However, the reality shows that these new techniques do not always work. 2006 is the year when great student protests of the past were most often remembered. This year, a number of ESIB members had to go onto the streets to make themselves heard (France, Slovenia, Belarus, Hungary, Finland, the UK, Belgium, Norway, etc.); remarkably, these protests happened largely in the countries where well recognised unions exist. This reflects the continuity of the student movement in Europe and raises the central demand of modern student movement: students want to be listened to, not only heard!
ESIB would also like to express its support to All-African Student Union (AASU) and Asian Student Association (ASA) as well as student organisations of Latin America in their struggle for students rights in their respective regions.
During the past 50 years, European students united under the auspices of various European student organisations which serve their specific needs and exist to make student voice stronger. ESIB – the National Unions of Students in Europe, the most representative student organisation in Europe, representing over 10 million students, stands for the rights of students at a European level.
A year before celebrating its 25th anniversary, ESIB relaunched a discussion on what student rights are and what they should be. In May 2006 ESIB started the initiative to create European Students Rights Charter which should become a basic document describing student rights and which will become a cornerstone for all developments of the European higher education area (Draft Student Charter ). The charter is to be adopted at the beginning of December at the ESIB Board meeting to be held in Paris.
Overview of how students in Europe commemorate and celebrate the date:
On November 17 this year ESIB members are organising a number of different events to remind students of the history and importance of this date to the student movement and our societies in general (Slovakia ), to start discussions among students on the matters of direct student concern ( Austria ). Some National Unions of Students reserved this date for organising street actions to draw the attention of the society to the current problems in higher education (Belgium, VVS and FEF) . But most of the students in Europe will still spend this day in streets, universities, clubs – celebrating (Latvia, Lithuania )!
ESIB – the National Union of Students congratulates all the students in Europe and beyond on this very special date. The dramatic past, from where the idea of November 17 stems, should never be repeated. This raising awareness campaign, organised by ESIB and its member NUSes, is to ensure that we remember what has been done before, and continue to move forward.