universities – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:59:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.11 Position paper on sustainable universities /position-paper-on-sustainable-universities-2/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 10:06:40 +0000 /?p=5595 1. Introduction

The history of the concept of sustainable development goes not far back in time. In 1987 sustainable development is defined by the Brundtland Comission as follows: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs[1].

The need for sustainable development was recognised by political leaders in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Agenda 21 was adopted during the conference. This document stated that action was needed towards a more sustainable developed world[2]. The Agenda 21 is not fully implemented yet, and due to economic challenges the attention of world leaders towards sustainable development has decreased in the recent years. This does not mean that the need for sustainable development has disappeared. With the ongoing exploitation of the Earth, the visibility of the limits of our resources and the tangible effects of climate change, the need for sustainable development is more urgent than ever.

As young people are the present and the future and have the ability to make a change for the better, the university has an immediate impact on the present and the future. A university is a state or private owned knowledge centre where young people are educated. A sustainable university is defined as a higher educational institution, as a whole or as a part, that addresses, involves and promotes, on a regional or a global level, the minimization of negative environmental, economic, societal, and health effects generated in the use of their resources in order to fulfil its functions of teaching, research, outreach and partnership, and stewardship in ways to help society make the transition to sustainable lifestyles[3]. In this position paper the focus lays on the environmental impact a university has.

”Sustainability means to me making sure future generations will still be able to enjoy the nature of our planet”[4].

2. Position of AEGEE-Europe

The start of the shift to a sustainable society starts with educating people[5], and practicing a sustainable lifecycle as a university has to complement any inclusion of sustainability in the curricula. AEGEE-Europe considers that universities, as innovative knowledge and education centres, have the duty towards society to educate young people in a way that makes them conscious of their lifestyles and give them the knowledge and the opportunity to make their lifestyles more sustainable. This must be done not only by educating students in a formal and informal way, but also by being an example to the whole society. Students are the present and give shape to the future. The shift to a more sustainable lifestyle becomes more realistic by educating students and showing them what a sustainable lifestyle is.

3. Sustainable Universities in Europe

Sustainability of universities and the value given to sustainability differ very much among countries in Europe. When the country itself values sustainability, this is reflected in its universities, which are more sustainable than average. It seems that the combination of the knowledge on sustainability, the power to change and interest in sustainability is what forms the three pillars for a sustainable transition[6]. Not all the universities have an awaiting approach. There are several universities, mainly in Western and Northern Europe that are taking responsibility for putting an emphasis on sustainability.

”I didn’t even learn what sustainability is at my University[7].”

4. Recommendations

4.1 Recommendations for NGOs

There are several organisations that are working towards more sustainable universities. The exchange of knowledge between them and cooperation among them would strengthen the message and actions that are taken.

Furthermore, the bottom up approach which ensures change driven by the activation of students of that specific university has proven successful in the cases where it has been implemented. The university usually listens to students if they raise their voice. In case the university does not, students are inventive enough to make sure that the university will listen.

Next to this, the bottom up approach in combination with including the value of sustainable lifecycles within the university and sustainable education in the policy of the university is the most successful combination. In this way the students are the driving force behind the change and the implementation of sustainability in the policy of the university ensures permanence of the values.

4.2 Recommendations for students

Students are important stakeholders in the university. Students are more powerful than they believe, especially if they form a group together and stand behind a common idea. Students can take care of education on sustainability in a formal or non-formal way or make the university more sustainable at own initiative. The education towards other students can occur if the university sees no need in taking the responsibility, or as a replenishment to the existing education. In this way students can teach others and create support and acknowledgement in the university as well.

4.3 Recommendations for awarding of sustainable universities and including sustainability in rankings

There are prizes and rankings for the most sustainable universities. It would be an opportunity to spread the importance of sustainable universities and to create more willingness in the universities itself to become more sustainable if these sustainability rankings where more known and the prizes where more prestigious.

However, sustainability is not included in the overall ranking of universities. There are several rankings of universities available, to name a few: U-Multirank, Shanghai Ranking and the Times higher education ranking. Rankings of universities should not only consist of the level of teaching and the facilities the university has, also the sustainability of a university should be taken into account. The sustainability of a university could be measured out of the average hours of education on sustainability at each study every year, the sustainability of the building and the catering, the existence of a committee on sustainability and the inclusion of sustainability on the policy of the university.

About AEGEE

AEGEE/ European Students’ Forum is a European Student organisation striving for a better Europe, including a more sustainable Europe, and believes in the power of young people. AEGEE was born in 1986 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and respect for human rights, bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation: 40 countries, 200 cities, 13.000 friends.

This network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses, and case study trips. In line with the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work is focused on three main areas: promotion of youth participation, development of European relations with its neighbours, and inclusion of minorities.

AEGEE’s work on environment and sustainability is relatively new. Its diverse membership however, provides a great potential for the development of cross-disciplinary efforts in this field — a role taken up with increasing success since the creation of its Environmental Working Group in 2007, the Sustaining our Future project in 2008-2009, and since 2012 its Policy Officer on Sustainability.


[1] Brundtland Report, 1987. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.

[2] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development in the 21st Century (SD21) Review of implementation of Agenda 21 and the Rio Principles Detailed review of implementation of Agenda 21. January 2012.

[3] Velazquez, L., Munguia, N., Platt, A., & Taddei, J. (2006). Sustainable university: what can be the matter?. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14(9), 810-819.

[4] Survey on Sustainable Universities, AEGEE 2014.

[5] See the position paper: AEGEE Position on Education for Sustainability.

[6] Csurgó, B., Kovách, I., & Kučerová, E. (2008). Knowledge, power and sustainability in contemporary rural Europe. Sociologia Ruralis, 48(3), 292-312.

[7] Survey on Sustainable Universities, AEGEE 2014.

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Position paper on Education /position-paper-on-education/ Thu, 13 Nov 2014 09:58:08 +0000 /?p=5557 Introduction

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[1]. 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[2]. 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.

Context

The emphasis on ‘a knowledge-based economy’ presented in the Strategy of Lisbon[3] 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”[4]. 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[5]. 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.

Data analysis

Since the survey covered three topics of the international dimension of higher education in Europe, the structure of the analysis follows the same line.

Topic: Mobility programmes in Europe

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.

Topic: Bologna Process

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[6].

Topic: Role of international youth organisations in higher education

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[7] 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.

Recommendations

Topic: Mobility programmes in Europe

  1. Improve communication about mobility programmes at universities

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.

  1. Increase recognition of academic work after mobility took place

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.

  1. Equal access to mobility programmes

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.

Topic: Bologna Process

  1. Improve the implementation of Bologna process

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[8]. 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.

Topic: Role of international youth organisations in higher education

  1. Strengthen the link between international youth organisations and higher education institutions

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[9], 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.

  1. Increase the possibility to get ECTS credits outside of formal education

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’[10],  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.

About AEGEE

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.  


[1] For example projects like Euducation for Democracy or EURECA or recently Erasmus Voting Assessment.
[2] Mark 5 was the highest one.
[3] European Commission. Accessed on October 15, 2014. Online http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/europe-2020-in-a-nutshell/targets/index_en.htm
[4] European Commission. Accessed on 13.10.2014, Online http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/strategic-framework/index_en.htm
[5] EHEA Bucharest Communique 2002. Accessed on 13.10.2014. Online http://www.ehea.info/Uploads/(1)/Bucharest%20Communique%202012(1).pdf
[6] This data was analysed by content analysis where positive feelings were linked with words “like”, “good”, “useful” or “support”, negative feelings with words like “don’t like”, “useless” or “bad” and neutral feelings were assigned to responses that did not contain any of these normative words.
[7] European Credit Transfer System.
[8] Bologna Process Implementation Report. 2012. Accessed on 14.10.2014. Online http://www.ehea.info/Uploads/(1)/Bologna%20Process%20Implementation%20Report.pdf
[9] Such as presentation skills, teamwork, time management or communication skills.
[10] European Commission. Accessed on 13.10.2014. Online http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52012DC0669&from=EN

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