AEGEE-Europe is belonging to the group of European students’ non-governmental organisations. It represents 13 000 students in 40 countries in Europe. Its members are young people that are involved in the higher education institutions and therefore are the main beneficiaries of the education systems in Europe. AEGEE together with its members strives for equal and quality education in Europe that does not set additional barriers for students to study and cares about students’ educational needs. Therefore, it is relevant for AEGEE to take a position about higher education in Europe in order to bring student perspective to its advocacy processes. This position of AEGEE-Europe covers three areas of international aspect of higher education in Europe. First, existence of European mobility programmes for students and their perspective on them. Second, the implementation of the Bologna process in various parts of Europe. Third, the role of international youth organisations in higher education. These three fields are influencing members of AEGEE-Europe in their everyday student lives. It is, thus, of high importance to present their opinion about these topics. Moreover, AEGEE developed many successful higher education projects in the past and had an experience of tackling the topic of education and mobility. This position is based on an internal survey of AEGEE-Europe. It was launched at the beginning of September 2014 and every AEGEE member had an opportunity to contribute to it. Altogether, there were 168 valid answers. Average age of respondents was 23.4 years and average mark given to the importance of education was 4.6. Moreover, 47 % of respondents claimed that they have conducted their studies in at least two countries. The survey consisted of combination of closed and open questions. Simple statistics and content analysis were used as methodological tools during data analysis of the responses. Based on the survey results from AEGEE members, we drafted three recommendations related to European mobility programmes, the Bologna process and the role of youth organisations in Higher Education. These recommendations serve as a basis for advocacy work of AEGEE in the field of Education once they are approved by the General Assembly of AEGEE-Europe.
The emphasis on ‘a knowledge-based economy’ presented in the Strategy of Lisbon gives the education policy a big role to play in order to achieve global competitiveness and Education has been heavily promoted as a means to prevent the growing unemployment as a result of the present financial and economic crisis. Those different elements have characterised the development of a European agenda for education policy and the Education and Training 2020 strategy, which has as one of its objectives to “make lifelong learning and mobility a reality”. With the signing of the Bologna Declaration in 1999, both EU and non-EU Member States committed themselves to coordinate education policies and pursue specific common objectives. They aimed at creating a European Area of Higher Education, in which the diversity of the Education system is conserved, but tools are implemented to ease the recognition of diplomas/qualifications between countries. AEGEE welcomes the improvements which have already been implemented, but regrets that some barriers remain. It is important to ensure mobility in the frame of the studies to be enjoyed fully by all young Europeans. Implementation of the Bologna process has gone further. The creation and implementation of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) changed the face of higher education in Europe. Last EHEA Ministerial Conference, organised in Bucharest in 2002, set clear goals to be achieved – widening access to higher education, quality assurance, and recognition of foreign degrees together with student-oriented perspective. It is true that in the past years, the mobility experience through the academic cursus has become an increasingly valued element in the students’ path. Several studies carried out by youth organisations and completed by EU publications, stress the positive impact of mobility in terms of skills development, both on personal and professional level. Moreover, AEGEE recently carried out a research called Erasmus Voting Assessment that proves that the experience of Erasmus students living in another EU country has a positive impact on the voting behaviour of young people in European elections. The new EU mobility programme Erasmus+ will undoubtedly enable a growing number of young students to carry out part of their studies in another EU country, and we welcome the 19 billion Euros budget allocated, and the objective of 3 million higher education and vocational training students to enjoy mobility programmes.
Since the survey covered three topics of the international dimension of higher education in Europe, the structure of the analysis follows the same line.
According to results of the survey, AEGEE members are aware of the Erasmus mobility programme (the number is close to 98 %). As a second comes Leonardo da Vinci mobility programme with 57 % of respondents being aware of the programme. Other mobility programmes like Comenius, Grundtvig, Jean Monnet or CEEPUS are recognised by less than 30 % of AEGEE members. 58 % of respondents feel to be personally encouraged to go on mobility programme by their home university in comparison with 31 % that do not. And when it comes to information about different mobility programmes, 61 % of respondents are feeling informed about their possibilities in comparison with 34 % that do not. Most of the information AEGEE members get from their friends (51 %). As a second comes information channel from university office (43 %) and then information from students NGOs (36 %). 43 % of respondents participated in mobility programmes, majority of them through the Erasmus programme (56 out of 72 respondents). Main purpose of the mobility was mostly study exchange. 70 % of the cases got their academic work recognised by their home university, but 30 % did not. In 90 % of cases there was a Learning agreement or other learning objectives signed before the mobility took place. A slight majority of respondents (55 %) found it easy to access the mobility programmes in comparison with 42 % that did not. Among the challenges for accessing mobility programmes, academic, administrational and financial obstacles were equally represented (about 25 % of responses). That means that AEGEE members find it hard to access mobility because of insufficient recognition of credits, slow processes of signing a Learning Agreement, too much paperwork before mobility, insufficient financial support and/or late payments. AEGEE members emphasise problems with communication between students and their universities or students and teachers about mobility programmes, recognition of credits, bureaucratic processes and lack of options to go on mobility.
75 % of respondents are aware of the Bologna process and a majority of them claim that their universities are implementing the scheme of bachelor – master – doctoral degree. However, a slight majority of respondents (57 %) consider the Bologna process as a positive development, while 20 % of the respondents have a negative opinion and 23 % have a neutral one.
AEGEE locals as international youth organisations are cooperating with universities in 66 % of the cases and only 12 % is not. In two third of the cases, AEGEE members use skills which they acquired in AEGEE during their studies at higher educational institutions. Only 9 % claim otherwise. 26 % of respondents claim that they have the opportunity to get ECTS credits outside of their formal education. Those who do not have this opportunity or do not know about it make up 57 % of the respondents. On the other hand, 57 % of the respondents would argue that their skills learnt in international youth organisation should be recognised by Higher Education institutions. Only 17 % of respondents would not argue so.
Almost 50% of the respondents say that they have heard about a mobility programme through friends. This answer sheds light on the importance of the peer group in the level of information, and can raise concerns regarding the information level of young people with fewer opportunities, who might not benefit from this peer influence. Therefore, we recommend the European Commission, and especially the information providers (such as Eurodesk, European Youth Portal), but also the Higher Education Institutions, to increase the promotion of all existing mobility schemes, to provide students with all the information needed to make choices regarding their studying path.
The successful implementation of the ECTS has drastically facilitated learner mobility, making it possible to transfer and recognise credits gained in another institution. The Erasmus scheme has brought huge improvements in terms of automatic recognition, thanks to the recognition tools such as the Learning Agreement, the Transcript of Records together with the Recognition Document in the case of mobility for studies. However, the current situation is still far from perfect. This can be done by strengthening the cooperation between universities and full implementation of ECTS credit framework throughout European Higher Education institutions.
Equal opportunities to access mobility programmes is not a reality so far. Different funding schemes dependent on national contexts create additional barriers for inclusion of some young people who are not able to cover the costs of their mobility. AEGEE believes that all EU regions should provide a minimum of additional support to students, taking into account not only their social situation, but also the country in which they will carry out their studies. Additionally, AEGEE with its membership also outside the European Union strongly supports the opening of mobility programmes to non-EU citizens. Our members outside the borders of the EU face even more exclusion, only on the arbitrary basis of their origin and nationality.
AEGEE welcomes the idea of creating a common European Higher Education Area. On the other hand, there is still room for improvement. Regarding implementation of Bologna process AEGEE urges to fully implement the three-cycle (bachelor – master – doctoral) of studies and the ECTS framework in . These aspects are still not fully implemented, as our members pointed out in the survey, and therefore they pose obstacles to student mobility in Europe. Moreover, AEGEE advocates for a stronger link between the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR) and the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. EQAR was introduced in 2012 and still does not cover all countries participating in the Bologna Process. Having the same quality indicators of higher education institutions are very important for the completion of EHEA. Last but not least, student participation in the institutional governance of universities needs to be improved. AEGEE welcomes the inclusion of student stakeholders in the process of the Bologna process implementation. What is missing, however, is a stronger emphasis on including students in the institutional matters of their home universities. Students should have a stronger say in the financial issues and staff policies of their universities. This is not the case all around EHEA.
AEGEE believes that the involvement of students in youth organisations has a very positive impact on the students’ success in Higher Education. Indeed, apart from the skills that young people develop and can use in their studies, youth organisations’ involvement also tends to develop attitudes such as persistence, flexibility as well as creativity, which also help students within the frame of their studies. Therefore, AEGEE asks Higher Education Institutions to cooperate further with students’ organisations, and to acknowledge their positive role on the students’ development, through additional support, funding and ECTS credits recognition.
AEGEE strongly believes in the principles of Lifelong Learning and wants to emphasise the important role of civil society when it comes to designing and implementing lifelong learning strategies. Moreover, as mentioned in the Communication from the European Commission ‘Rethinking Education’, AEGEE agrees that flexible learning pathways need to be recognised, namely that the Higher Education Institutions are not the only space where young people can acquire knowledge and competences, and that it is important to better recognise Learning outside Formal Education.
AEGEE (Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe) is one of Europe’s biggest interdisciplinary student organisations. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines. Founded in 1985 in Paris, today AEGEE has grown to a Network of 13000 friends, present in 200 cities in 40 countries all over Europe. AEGEE puts the idea of a unified Europe into practice. Operating without a national level, AEGEE brings 13000 students directly in touch with each other.