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Contribution of AEGEE-Europe to the European Commission’s White Paper: Youth Policy

“European values, mobility in Europe and Europe in the world”

1)

At the beginning of the 21st century, Europe is facing a big challenge: the institutional concept  has to evolve into a concept uniting its people. In order to develop a truly European identity and to share common values, Europe’s citizens have to add the European dimension to their way of thinking and to start looking behind the borders of their nations.

The decision-makers of tomorrow are among the Youth of today. We, the European students of AEGEE, wish to express our vision of the future. We share a European spirit and believe in a Europe without borders. Our European experience of living and working abroad, in multicultural teams, is constantly reminding us of the need for a real European citizenship. In order to achieve a real European citizenship, it is essential to remove obstacles in mobility, the physical as well as the intellectual ones.

The concept of physical mobility becomes more and more common in the student world. A growing number of students look forward to the possibility to spend a period of their study time abroad, attending the corresponding faculty in another country. Recent data clearly show the importance students attach to the opportunity offered to them through the experience of studying abroad. Such an experience means to become aware and involved in different education systems, to get in touch with other cultures, ways of thinking, and to make of a foreign language a familiar one. But it means as well to receive an education more centered on Europe, since students feel themselves part of another country educational system and therefore, feel European.

Physical mobility can, then, be an easier way to increase the European citizenship feeling among young people. However, physical mobility is not implemented without problems, both on practical and theoretical levels: financing, recognition of titles, daily life questions, limited number of exchanges. A large part of young Europeans are disadvantaged coming from countries where European educational programmes are not yet implemented. Many young people still face borders in the most physical sense not being able to overcome them due to strict visa regulations. Long bureaucratic and sometimes inconceivable procedures prevent them from moving freely in Europe and therefore create a strong sense of exclusion.

However, until now, some of the difficulties encountered in the implementation of the physical mobility programs can be overcome by a wide introduction of the intellectual mobility concept. Intellectual or virtual mobility has been proposed recently, even if the concept is not a new one, as a possible and feasible solution for some problems arose within the development of the physical one. The ERASMUS program has achieved its goal of giving the possibility to be mobile to 5-10% of students all around Europe. But what about those left home?

If we want to achieve a European dimension of education, we have to try to involve as many young people as possible: each of us has to receive the chance to know history, economics, law and social issues of the other European countries. All of us should be able to communicate in a language other than our own, should experience other systems of teaching and learning. Even students who cannot afford to leave their home and study in other countries have the right to receive this kind of open European education. And, in the same way, it would be possible also to reach part of the students who are not able to go abroad, ensuring that they will be ready tomorrow to live as European citizens.

2)

For achieving European citizenship, media shall play an important role to provide the society with all the necessary information and to enable the people by an increase of transparency to take part in the decision-making process. Since media’s main focus is on the national level the process of forming opinions is limited within national borders. These limitations have to be overcome in order to provide citizens with platforms of exchange and understanding where topics of common interest are discussed on a European level.

In order to facilitate physical mobility, the European Union shall take the following measures: legal and administrative obstacles to full mobility within an enlarged European Union shall be completely removed: moving to, working, studying and living in another European country should be as simple as moving inside your home town. Legal immigrants shall have the same rights and obligations as European citizens.

The European Union could undertake a first step in this direction by avoiding long bureaucratic ways and high fees for obtaining visas. In the near future a clear sign shall be given to the society by abolishing visas for young people who intend to participate in any kind of intercultural exchange.

A European dimension shall be integrated into education and training of every young person inside and outside educational institutions in order to foster intellectual mobility, to overcome mental barriers and to achieve a real European citizenship. Cultural diversity will be preserved in a united Europe. Intercultural education, courses on language and culture will enable the next generation of European citizens to understand and appreciate different points of view and cultural backgrounds. Legal immigrants shall be enabled to integrate into, and fully participate in the European society. Young people’s access to programmes on regional, national and European level for intellectual and physical mobility shall be a fundamental right. Having finally realised the importance of education and training of young people in formal and non-formal contexts, the European governments shall allocate appropriate resources to education, training and youth programmes on the European level.

We urge the European Union to continue the already existing programmes in these fields and broaden their scope towards all young people in Europe. Furthermore the integration process can be favoured by applying different means, for example: European studies curricula, languages training, education of teachers, the common uses of technological means etc. The challenge today is to make a common effort to have these new tools studied and implemented in the widest way possible; and this is a challenge in which we are all involved: students, professors, universities, states and European institutions.

A European Dimension of education can be reached with the implementation of students’ mobility schemes as pointed out beforehand, but as well with a serious co-ordination attempt of the education/training policies of the single EU member states. The transfer of university credits and the recognition of university diplomas has to be implemented removing all barriers between different educational systems in Europe. A student status shall be defined granting a student his/her specific rights and obligations in the education system.

3) Examples from AEGEE

AEGEE as an interdisciplinary students organisations has been promoting the European idea among young people and creating a platform for European exchange for more then 15 years now. Having a truly European structure without any National Level, the emphasis in our work lies on the local and regional dimensions while we are in the same time putting it in a European context. We enable discussion about European issues by encouraging the direct contact between young European in conferences and seminars covering various topics and by maintaining communication tools such as mailing lists and magazines.

Every year, with AEGEE, more then 2000 young students have the chance to go abroad for a two-week Summer University where they learn different languages, encounter and experience other cultures which let them reflect on their own cultural backgrounds. This mobility enables our members to overcome physical borders as well as to broaden their intellectual mobility by achieving a higher level of intercultural understanding.

On the European level of the association mulitinational teams are working together in the European Board, in project teams or in different working groups. By doing so they acquire a broad range of intercultural skills, language skills as well as the capacity to interact and to co-operate with people form different cultural backgrounds.

The AEGEE Yearplan Project for the year 2000, the Borderless Europe project, gave young Europeans the occasion to discover the role and position that the concept of a Borderless Europe has obtained both in their personal lives and the societies they live in. Furthermore, it provided a platform for expressing visions for a truly Borderless Europe. The project was directed towards all European citizens. We wanted to identify obstacles to mobility and who is responsible for them. As a consequence, possible solutions were being worked out and presented to national and European politicians, administrative structures, NGOs and other important actors in the European society.

The Borderless Europe Rally aimed to give 32 young people the possiblity to test their limits of mobility and to dive into one of the most intensive cultural experiences. In 8 teams of four people they were in 20 days travelling together more than 800 km and crossing more then 25 borders. While the travelling group was in a drastic way experiencing physical barriers by being confronted with heavy visa restrictions, they could also overcome many mental barriers by establishing close contacts between the group and the local communities.

By organising the Socrates on the Move Project, AEGEE has set education as a priority and therefore increased the awareness of intellectual mobility. This project was a one year joint venture of ESIB – The National Unions of Students in Europe, AEGEE Europe and ESN – Erasmus Student Network, supported and conducted in co-operation with the European Commission, DG Education and Culture. The project was historical in many respects. It is the first time that three main European student associations, ESIB, AEGEE and ESN, were working together on a common project. It was also the first time the European Commission has worked together with student organisations in project of this size and importance. Last but not least, it is the first time that student organisations were working on the distribution of information on the Socrates programme and thus promotion of student mobility in Europe in such  an organised and professional way.

The aims of the project were to spread out information throughout Europe about the Socrates II 2000-2006 programme, its sub-programmes and its possibilities to students and European higher education institutions; to educate and train European students and the European student movement in order to demand for the students rights in the European higher education e.g. recognition of studies and diplomas acquired abroad; to create links between students/student organisations and European decision making bodies as well as mobility institutions on local, national and international level;  to work for the continuity of student participation in European decision-making through organisational learning, networking and documentation of the information acquired; to a tradition of having a network of student Socrates promoters and thus secure the flow of information on the Socrates programme to students.