Amber Mun, ERUA, Université Paris 8
The European Student Assembly, an opportunity for counter-isolation
Following the prolonged isolation entailed by the pandemic and in the midst of the ongoing violence in Ukraine, the timing of the inaugural session of the European Student Assembly could not have been more prescient as a moment of collective reflection on the future of Europe. The opportunity to engage with 275 highly articulate international students under one roof from 38 European university alliances afforded an experience of communality and discussion within the auspices of this initiative to foster greater collaboration and dialogue amongst European universities.
The event kicked off with a tour of the European Parliament where, as a British national studying in France, I felt saddened by the absence of the UK’s representation on this European stage. Evidently, the importance of being able to have this space to come together and debate the issues is especially important in the wake of the recent crises with of the war, the pandemic and climate change, challenges which are increasingly global in nature. Part of the remit of the conference was to propose solutions to better adapt and prepare for such situations, offering the perspectives from students researching these subjects and others.
The 38 University Alliances attending the Assembly provided a dynamic and diverse response to the 10 panel questions put together by the EUC, ranging from proposals for dealing with cyber-attacks, to health, to heartfelt discussions about how to react to conflict in Europe. The backdrop of the situation in Ukraine added a potency to the debates that was reflected in an enhanced camaraderie and solidarity, a belief in the need to come together to unite against threats to the values of the European Union and to define such values more clearly.
I participated in the social media panel, where we worked together for three months to discuss questions around how to deal appropriately with the regulation of the plethora of social media platforms which have sprung up so quickly and with such global reach that effective oversight is a complex matter requiring cross-border cooperation and the participation of numerous stakeholders. We particularly focused on the issue of hate speech and the need to combat this whilst balancing the right to freedom of expression. Inspired by expert discussions, the final proposals in our joint manifesto centred around the principles of transparency; content moderation; fundamental rights on the internet; and protective and educative measures.
The overarching theme of the Conference centred on facilitating greater cooperation across European universities to foster a stronger European identity, particularly amongst new generations of researchers. Whilst the Erasmus scheme has existed for a long time, there is much greater potential for European-wide university initiatives, and a manifesto on the future of European universities was presented in this regard with certain suggestions. We were treated to a moving performance by the choir of the University of Strasbourg who finished with a haunting rendition of a Ukrainian song, leading to a standing ovation from the entire hall.
The various panels’ proposals for greater collaboration amongst European universities offered exciting potential to really create a new style of pan-European learning and education that is better equipped for the rapidly evolving technoscape today.
It is to be hoped that with all the tensions currently circulating the globe the European Student Assembly continues to be an opportunity for students from across Europe to come together in harmony, solidarity and peace to build together a brighter future that boldly puts Europe at the forefront of leading the change we want to see in the world.