Next Generation EU was announced last year as the biggest single investment of the European Union, mounting up to 806.9 billion euros, with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) as its central instrument. The approval of Next Generation EU, after a year that determined rampant deterioration of students’ wellbeing and educational conditions was seen by many students across the European Union as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure the massive investments that higher education undoubtedly needs, as a part of the greater plan to build back together while recovering after the crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the official declarations and even the name of this special budget, the harsh reality that developed in front of the majority of students and the National Unions of Students from the member states of the European Union was that the governments did not consider investing in higher education as a priority, even though one pillar of the RRF is about “policies for the next generation, children and the youth, such as education and skills.”, according to the consultations within ESU organised in March 2021.
It is superfluous to argue why education is in the core of the actions necessary to build back together, to enhance resilience and to contribute to a stronger, more inclusive EU after the pandemic crisis. This was also acknowledged by the European Union and its member states reunited in the EU Council, while approving communications and recommendations regarding the European Education Area or Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030). Nevertheless, the priorities laid out in the strategic documents did not translate into relevant funding through the Next Generation EU instrument.
ESU’s Board members strongly condemn the fact that students’ representatives in many parts of the EU were not meaningfully involved as relevant stakeholders in elaborating the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRP’s), and in some cases they were not consulted at all. This lack of understanding of the relevance of students’ input in determining the priorities of the NRRP’s is disappointing and is, certainly, one of the causes of the far from sufficient allocations to higher education.
Students were actively involved in several ways in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have to be active as well in developing the steps to be taken forward in respect to the recovery, making their voices heard through their representatives.
The European Students’ Union (ESU) was proactive in its advocacy for providing at least 10% of the Recovery and Resilience Facilities’ funds to education, developing a campaign and raising awareness about the precarious situation of the relevance of education in the preparing process of NRRPs. Furthermore, a joint statement of ESU together with the Organising Bureau of School Students’ Union (OBESSU), the European Youth Forum, the Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Disability Forum called for meaningful investment in education in the NRRPs and outlined the powerful reasons to justify the role of education in achieving the objectives of the RRF.
Unfortunately, students’ calls did not sufficiently echo in many of the member states’ actions. Since the deadline for submitting the NRRPs to the European Commission passed on the 1st of May, member states of the EU presented to the European Commission their official NRRP or are planning to do so in a short timeframe.
The process of creating the NPPRs was in many situations ridden with lack of proper transparency or involving stakeholders in the design and proposed allocation of available funds. For building trust with the new generation and empowering them to be active citizens of the EU, the status quo cannot continue in the next phases of rolling out the Facility.
Therefore, ESU’s Board:
Calls on the European Commission to:
Calls on the national governments of the member states of the European Union which did not consult student organisations to change course and meaningfully involve students and their representatives in the implementation phase of the NRRPs, ensuring the activities laid out by the Plans meet their needs.
According to the recently adopted Plan of Work for 2021-2022 mandate, ESU will keep monitoring this situation closely, advocating for proper funding for higher education and for real participation of students in the process, also supporting NUSs that seek help.
Proposed by: ANOSR
Seconded by: CSC, ASM, ŠOS, HÖOK