ESU firmly believes that the EU should reflect the interests of the countries and the academic community throughout its policies, and to recognise the role of students in decision-making at all levels.
Despite the efforts done so far by the EU and some of the member states, ESU recognised several challenges that students are still facing today:
• access and completion in higher education
• teaching and learning in higher education – not a lot of progress has been made in implementing the Student-Centred Learning approach.
• student mobility
• financing of higher education and student support systems – The cuts to student support systems and the growing trend of converting grants into loans is creating incredible financial burdens on families and students and risk squeezing more students out of higher education
Priorities and ways the EU should support efforts to improve higher education
Access and completion: Making our systems more inclusive is an essential aim for the EHEA as our populations become more and more diversified, also due to immigration and demographic changes (Yerevan Communiqué, 2015) and in line with the Education and Training 2020 strategy.
There is a need to focus on flexible access paths and fair recognition of prior learning, as well as support mechanisms to facilitate successful completion. ESU calls on the European Union to financially support countries who wish to design national access plans to improve access and successful completion (reducing drop-outs).
Learning and teaching: At the Yerevan Ministerial Conference, countries agreed to encourage and support higher education institutions and staff in promoting pedagogical innovation in student-centred learning environments. We should create closer links between research and education in higher education. Further work is needed for incorporating learning outcomes for general and transversal skills such as creativity, critical thinking, digital skills and intercultural understanding.
Mobility & internationalisation: Ministers committed to remove barriers and widen opportunities for international mobility, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The EU should support mobility through increasing grants rather than loans. Internationalisation strategies will also allow to have an international experience at home for those who are not mobile.
Different purposes of higher education: One of the major concerns is the extensive focus on the economic role of higher education and the lack of support for the public responsibility for education and promotion of education as a public good. The Paris Declaration actually reinforced the importance of education for active citizenship and learning to live together, as well as the need to promote the values of democracy, human rights, freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination. If the goals of inclusive and sustainable growth are to be achieved
the approach must be adjusted accordingly.
Funding: In the Bologna Process the ministers committed to securing the highest possible level of public funding for higher education. While encouraging member states to meet the minimum target of 2% of GDP investments in higher education, we strongly emphasise the need to abolish tuition fees and reject any reference to the further introduction or increase of tuition fees.
Supporting efforts to improve higher education
While EU population is aging, the migration flows and increasing numbers of asylum seekers are shaping the demographics in Europe. Higher Education should be well prepared and respond adequately to issues such as recognition of qualification held by refugees, asylum seekers and persons in a refugee-like situation as well as their integration and support mechanisms. Moreover, mobility opportunities should be offered to students and staff from conflict areas or where they are being persecuted or attacked for exercising their basic freedoms, while working to make it possible for them to return home once conditions allow.
There is a need to ensure a European approach in all European projects co-funded by the Commission, as well as to ensure a broad impact and usefulness in line with the Modernisation Agenda goals. Therefore some actions of Erasmus+ should be re-centralised.
At the EU institutions, education, including qualifications and skills, should be put under the same structure (DG/committee) together with research in order to ensure closer links between them all and ensuring a bigger impact towards a knowledge society.