18 February 2021

4EU+ students' perspective on the future of European higher education

Students Julia Kostro (University of Warsaw/ 4EU+ Alliance) and George Apeitos (University of Cyprus/Young Universities for the Future of Europe, YUFE) shared their visions of the European "University of the future" in an online panel discussion "European Universities: Visions and hopes of European students" organised under the umbrella of the European Youth Event, 27 January 2021.

The live streaming via Facebook enabled more than 280 participants to join the event online and actively participate by asking speakers questions and answering the questions posed to the public via the Mentimeter tool by the session's moderator, Ms Oana Dumitrescu (Policy Officer, DG EAC, European Commission).

The panel discussion opened with a speech by Themis Christophidou, Director General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture at the European Commission. Commending the high turnout of participants, Ms Christophidou called on students to take ownership of their own education and become actively involved in the changes currently being implemented at European higher education institutions, also in the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. "These [EYE online] gatherings are particularly important because the policies we are working on - the European Universities, the transformation of Higher Education - are meant to address your needs, said Ms Christophidou. And what better way to start the discussions on shaping the future of Europe than listening to the people that will be shaping that future the most? This is especially true because we are not talking about a distant future".

Speaking about student engagement in YUFE, George Apeitos, Archaeology student at the University of Cyprus and member of the YUFE Student Forum, referred to the YUFE Star System, which, apart from recognising students' participation in mobility and language learning programmes, also acknowledges their civic engagement and professional development efforts. He also emphasised the YUFE governance structure, which ensures that students have a say in every aspect of YUFE's activity. "Within a European University, being a student is not just about attending lectures any more. Learning is being mobile, is gaining work experience, and is doing social work (...) Transforming higher education isn't just about academic knowledge and experience. For me as a student, it helps me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself and it gives me some kind of reassurance and hope for my future."

The second student representative to speak about the students' potential to transform European higher education was Julia Kostro, who manages her studies in Finance, Accounting and Insurance at the University of Warsaw with the role as Head of the International Cooperation Commission of UW Students’ Union and a member of the 4EU+ Student Committee. Speaking about her motivation to join the Committee back in June 2020, Julia said: "One of the most important things for me was that thanks to the European Universities initiative, we as students could make a change in the functioning of our universities and take part in the transformation process."

While acknowledging the importance of the fact that students from 4EU+ Alliance have their own Committee and seats in the 4EU+ Academic Council, Julia pointed to the fact that 4EU+ students are also invited to contribute to the tasks, initiatives and targeted actions of the Alliance, including 4EU+ awareness raising activities, research projects and the development of innovative pedagogies. Speaking about the first steps that have to be taken regarding the transformation of higher education, she stressed the need to introduce students, from the very early stage of their studies, to the world of university research and academic expertise. "Thanks to the involvement of students in research activities and providing sound higher education we can create critical thinkers, society, that can distinguish between fake news and the facts based on research results, which must not be considered as just another opinion. The problem of fake news is one of the biggest problems of today's world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, almost all of our classes are conducted remotely and we are more exposed to fake news around the Internet than ever", said Julia. "We should use the European Universities initiative to have an impact on and shape the way of conducting classes (....) As students, I believe we know which ways are the best for us to understand a topic. We seek classes that can shape our ability to interpret data and to distinguish facts from opinion. We need more classes that include myth-bashing, European solidarity and European cooperation. And that's what 4EU+ Alliance is working on."

During the Mentimeter interactive session with the public, flexible curricula were identified both as the most exciting element of the European Universities initiative and a very strong need of students.

Organised every two years by the European Parliament's Youth Outreach Unit in Strasburg, the European Youth Event (EYE) brings together thousands of young participants from the 27 EU Member States and countries outside the EU. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Youth Event (EYE) of 2020 was postponed and will be held in a hybrid format on 8-9 October 2021, allowing participants to participate in person or attend the event online. To make up for the postponement, the European Parliament has prepared a series of EYE Online events, one of them being the debate "European Universities: Visions and hopes of European students". See the full playlist of EYE Online events >>