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European Students’ Union: access to international mobility top priority

Access to education is a foremost priority for the European Students’ Union, and an objective that governments across the continent must focus on while making funding for universities sustainable, the group has outlined in its 2019 policy document.

Visiting students should be allowed to work to the same extent as domestic students while studying, ESU suggests. Photo: Pixnio

It also called for EU and non-EU students to pay the same tuitions fees

Representing 45 National Unions of Students from 39 countries, the ESU creates its policy document every four years over a wide range of topics within education.

“Access to international mobility for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds… is a top priority”

In its latest document, ESU recommended abolishing fees on student visas and permits and creating “transparent and accessible” online information for mobile students about the accessibility of institutions and student housing.

Visiting students are “more vulnerable to exploitation” in the housing market because they often lack a network and an understanding of the hosting country’s housing laws, the report noted.

In addition, it has called for EU and non-EU students to pay the same tuitions fees.

The document also set out ESU’s position on transnational education, internationalisation and virtual exchange, and demands financial support for mobility to be a “universal right”.

“Access to Erasmus+ grants and international mobility for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as sustainable funding of higher education are top priorities,” according to Katrina Koppel, ESU’s former vice president.

ESU’s ultimate priorities are longer lasting, she said however. Those priorities are free and accessible high quality education for all.

However, some higher education institutions see the value of mobility as a way to promote themselves in global competition and are making a profit of international students, the report continued.

“When economic reasons steer the internationalisation of higher education with the objective of making a profit, higher education institutions focus on attracting fee-paying students and establishing franchises,” it read.

“The risk is that only economically exploitable programs prosper and certain countries or regions stay in the focus of interest at the expense of quality in education, the rights of students, and the fundamental values of what education is for.”

“[Virtual exchange] is an add-on, not a replacement of physical mobility”

TNE is similarly being used by HEIs for branding or a means to gain profit, according to the document.

“Transnational education should benefit the local community and the learning environment by providing students with opportunities for quality assured education and mobility, free of charge,” ESU suggested.

Getting visas and permits should be made as “easy as possible” for students, it added, and fees associated with visas are “negatively affecting study accessibility”.

“Regardless of their employment status or EU citizenship status, all students should maintain the same rights as nationals within that country,” the document continued.

And while Koppel said that there is “no simple answer” to increasing education budgets, ESU supports its national union members taking part in domestic budget negotiations.

“Education investments in Europe still haven’t recovered from the economic crisis over a decade ago now,” she noted.

“Simply returning public funding to education and research to that level would cover a lot of the issues we request governments invest in.”

Additionally, the document argues that despite being a “positive tool” for increased internationalisation, virtual exchange is and should not be considered mobility.

“It is an add-on, not a replacement of physical mobility,” the document contended.

“Virtual exchange and blended mobilities [are] wonderful opportunities to broaden access and gain new ground on student-centred learning,” Koppel added, but they should not be an alternative to mobility.

If virtual exchange is seen as an alternative to mobility, it has the “potential to use digitalisation as an excuse for undercutting and underfunding physical mobility,” she explained.

“For some students who cannot get abroad, they too deserve a global experience”

Commenting on the report, Mohamed Abdel-Kader, executive director of the Stevens Initiative, which focuses on virtual exchange, said that virtual exchange is a different experience from in-person study abroad.

“[It] has its own characteristics and varying degrees of student impact like any other educational practice reliant on program design and implementation,” he said.

“The reality is that for some students who cannot get abroad, they too deserve a global experience and if that comes from a rich virtual exchange in their classroom, we’re happy to see that happen.

“Virtual exchange is one tool out of many in an international educator’s toolbox,” he added.

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