Students all around Europe and the world fight every day for a better Higher education system demanding in particular free and quality education for all. But students don’t only fight for academic matters; they are building a country’s future. Therefore students act as citizens and fight for their global interests as citizens. Indeed, students are key actors in the advancement of democratic societies where every citizen can exercise their rights and truly participate and influence the decisions of governments to build the society they want and need.
Higher education institutions are the best place to develop personally and understand the importance of being an active citizen. Higher education institutions and governments must ensure that higher education fulfills its purposes: provide students with skills and knowledge that will allow them to find a satisfactory job relevant to their field, allow the personal development of students, ensure the possibility for students to be active students and citizens and contribute to the building of a knowledge-based society.
As modern higher education is built on democratic values, it is necessary to respect these. According to the European Students’ Union, students’ rights fall into the spectrum of Human rights and shall therefore be guaranteed by every country and every higher education institution. “We, the Students of Europe, hold these rights to be self-evident” (Students’ Rights Charter, 2008), however students still struggle to have them recognized. The European Student’s Union adopted in 2008 the Students’ Rights Charter and considers that these are the fundamental students’ rights. The Students’ Rights Charter has to be considered as a reference and an essential tool to safeguard students’ rights. The Students’ Rights Charter offers ESU’s vision about students’ rights, which is that they must be comprehensive and cover every aspect of student life. This is most important and many stakeholders limit their understanding of students’ rights to academic matter. Therefore the Student’s Rights Charter is composed of 5 parts that addresses all aspects of student life: “access to higher education”, “ student involvement”, “social aspects of studies”, “academic aspects of studies” and “right to privacy and access to knowledge and information”. Academic matters are only one of the five parts composing the Students’ Rights Charter.
The International Day of Students reminds us every year that students’ rights are being violated and that student activism is still needed to raise awareness about the importance of these rights. The Students’ Rights Charter is a tool to strengthen students’ rights by raising awareness, lobbying, homogenize regulations at the European level, and to build the capacity of existing and especially of emerging student movements.
It is obvious that the situation of students’ rights is very diverse across Europe and students from different parts of Europe have different concerns and priorities. However it is also very obvious that all students must have the same rights. Students’ rights are Human rights and therefore are universal and inalienable. And it is in this sense that the Students’ Rights Charter is essential to achieve this objective. The Student’s Rights Charter presents a common understanding of students’ rights. The annotations to the charter present best practices from different countries, which is the best argument to demonstrate the respect of all of these rights is realistic and possible. The Students’ Rights Charter also promotes solidarity and international cooperation among students as it is in the interest of all to have same student’s rights. Students have proven many times that together they are stronger and have been able to reverse decisions affecting them when governments see that their students are not alone and that their reputation is in danger abroad.
The tool is not a tool and a necessity only for students who don’t have yet all their rights implemented. It is also a necessary tool for students who benefit from all their rights. The recent years have shown that students’ rights can never be taken for granted. Indeed, the global economic crisis has narrowed governments’ vision and long-term interest of higher education. For example, in countries such as Denmark and Sweden where free education for all is a core value of their society, governments have introduced tuition fees for non-EU citizens. The Students’ Rights Charter does not only serve the purpose of promoting students’ rights but it also serves the purpose of ensuring that those rights are maintained and implemented as well.
The respect of students’ rights for all students is not a reality yet and the Students’ Rights Charter aims at achieving this objective. It is a tool that has to be used to promote a common understanding of students’ rights, pressure governments and other stakeholders to respect students’ rights, strengthen international cooperation and guarantee that students’ rights be always maintained.