ESU 85th Board Meeting in Tallinn

From November 20th to 26th, the 85th Board Meeting (BM) of the European Students’ Union (ESU) took place in Tallinn. This is one of the two major events each year for European student representatives, where decisions are made that impact the future of European students and higher education policies at large.

The Federation of Estonian Student Unions’ (EÜL) was represented by chair Katariina and policy advisor Mikael at the 85th BM. Our task was essentially to participate in discussions that shaped various resolutions, internal restructuring within the organization, as well as broader policy documents and strategies. There were over a hundred participants, with at least two delegates from each country. Understandably, in the case of ESU, it is a very large organization, encompassing 45 member organizations from 40 different countries, each with its own higher education peculiarities and internal political struggles.

During the BM, 17 different resolutions were adopted. Notable among them was a resolution drafted by the delegation from the Faroe Islands, focusing on supporting the mental health of their students and ensuring free access to menstrual products. Resolutions from Switzerland, Bulgaria, and Romania had broader and more fundamental scopes. The Swiss Student Union, for instance, urged with its resolution to pressure the Swiss government to resume negotiations on joining the ERASMUS+ program, emphasizing that the absence of international students hampers the quality of their own higher education. On the other hand, the resolution from Bulgaria and Romania addressed Austria and the Netherlands, which had vetoed their Schengen area application, urging them to reconsider their positions to enhance student mobility.

Resolutions with a future-oriented focus included one from France, highlighting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. France’s decision to accommodate its athletes in student dormitories raised concerns as it put a significant number of students in a difficult situation.

In addition to resolutions, comprehensive documents related to artificial intelligence, social policy, gender-based violence, inclusion, and equality were adopted. These documents are available on the ESU website for all interested parties.

One particularly popular topic was the policy on artificial intelligence, outlining the boundaries within which artificial intelligence should be used in higher education and the goals to strive for in its development. EÜL had significant input, emphasizing that artificial intelligence serves not only students but also educators. Furthermore, there was a general advocacy for stronger regulation and control of artificial intelligence tools to prevent issues like academic degree forgery.

While the artificial intelligence policy paper was entirely new, the social policy position was more established, undergoing periodic updates every few years. It addressed various issues, including lifelong learning, European degrees, flexible learning opportunities, and more, reflecting the concerns raised by member organizations in recent years.

Papers on gender-based violence and a strategy for fair inclusion garnered significant attention. The former focused on combating gender-based violence, both physical and mental, in higher education institutions, while the latter aimed at making ESU’s work culture more inclusive for LGBT+ members, ethnic minorities, and individuals with special needs.

Mikael found it surprising that each country has its specific problems concerning student rights, and no one feels they have it all figured out. For example, the Irish delegation envied Estonians for having doctoral candidates as contractual employees of universities. Members of the Danish delegation were surprised that a Tartu University student, like Mikael, had a reminder system on Moodle that notified a day before the deadline for assignments, a feature lacking even in their welfare state, often considered an example for student wages.

In summary, it was a proud week from the perspective of the Estonian Student Unions and Estonia as a whole. The voice of Estonians and EÜL, in particular, carries weight internationally – we are known, respected, and play a proactive role in advocating for the rights of European students. We serve as an example of how an umbrella organization from a small country with 40,000 students in a remote corner of Europe can influence millions of students across Europe.

Project manager Anna recalled the event with pride, stating, “EÜL was honoured to host the 85th Board Meeting – what we achieved was far more than exchange of ideas – our focus was dedicated to the pressing issues and the future of higher education. This board meeting is an example of the collective power of engaged and dynamic minds, who work passionately on the future of higher education in Europe.”

The next ESU Board Meeting is scheduled to take place in Switzerland in May of the coming year.

The event was financed by the National Foundation of Civil Society, Tallinn and Study in Estonia.

The sponsors included Jägermeister, Tere, Kleepsud123, Tallinn Viimsi Spa, Eomap, Alpro, Timer, Taffel, Värska, Jungent, Kadarbiku, Lux Express, A. Le Coq, Copy Pro, La Tabla, Suveterrass, and Tupla.