Today, 17th November, Arqus joins the higher education community worldwide celebrating the International Students’ Day. Arqus European University Alliance is and has always been student-centred. From the very beginning, students were involved in the design of the Arqus Alliance. Nowadays, students are also fully participating in Arqus’ activities as well as in the development of the Alliance through the coordination and advisory structures of Arqus. The Alliance allows its participating universities to substantially increase their already existing opportunities for benefiting from an international experience. Arqus students are having access to more European and international learning experiences within and alongside their study programmes: study mobility, internship (work-based) mobility, short-term mobility, summer courses, language courses, volunteer (service) mobility, virtual exchange and access to academic offer at partners.
As a way to celebrate the International Students’ Day, we have held an interview with Lasse Emcken, the recently elected new President of the Arqus Student Council and we had a chat with Gohar Hovhannisyan, President of the European Students’ Union (ESU).
How did you first hear about Arqus?
I first heard about Arqus from one of my colleagues in the Students Union of the University of Leipzig. I think it was just shortly after the European Universities’ launching event, back in November 2019, in Brussels which no one from our Union was able to attend.
What do you think about the initiative of European University Alliances?
I think it is a very exciting project with a bright future especially if it remains aligned with the original goals outlined by Emmanuel Macron in his Sorbonne speech. I really hope that the European Universities Initiative helps to develop a more interwoven Europe on an institutional, regional and most importantly personal level. This can in my opinion be best achieved if the whole initiative is also understood as a driver for deeper democratic cooperation.
What do you think are the additional or new opportunities of a student of a university member of a European University Alliance?
To make international mobility easier should be at the forefront of our efforts. The average student of our universities would profit most if it is very easy, accessible and affordable to move to another country and study there. To achieve this, we need to integrate Arqus into every study programme at every of our seven universities, find ways to align the different grading systems and reduce overall bureaucracy. The goal should be to make a study trip abroad nearly as easy as registering for courses at the home university. It should be normal to have courses in English and other languages during the course of all study programs so that those studying abroad can join the average courses, meet regular students and don’t get stuck in the infamous Erasmus-Bubble.
I also believe that PhD students could profit from the international perspective of their peers in Arqus. We just need to create places where they can find each other and improve our collective research effort.
How important is for you to be in touch with student representatives from the other Arqus universities?
It’s the most important part of my role as president of the Student Council. The fact that we still haven’t been able to meet in person remains a problem we only have partly been able to solve via digital means. In order to build true and lasting networks we need physical meetings - these times keep reminding us of that fact. Our hopes now rest on the vaccine research processes.
What are the most important take-aways from this collaboration?
We still are at the very beginning of our work together. I have had the hope to kick start intensive collaboration after meeting everybody in Lyon, where the Arqus Annual Conference 2020 was supposed to take place in March, but as you know this didn’t happen for good reasons. That also meant that many student representatives had to focus on handling the impact of the pandemic on our higher education institutions instead of working in Arqus. Even though our initial plan didn’t work out and our collaboration had a slower phase in spring we were able to start intensive digital cooperation. My biggest take-away from it is that we can learn very valuable things form each other and that we always need to stay open minded and consider our diverse backgrounds. Our differences can lead to cultural misunderstandings but are also our greatest strength because for example every problem we face will be considered from different angles.
Can you briefly tell us how you have organised yourselves in the Arqus Students Council?
We currently have 14 students - two from every university. There is a president, a vice-president and two members of the steering committee. We collaborate via mail, on a telegram chat and have monthly meetings. Just recently we started to participate more intensively in the Action Lines to integrate the students' views even more into Arqus’ activities. Additionally we started to write ourselves a statute to enhance our internal collaboration and reduce misunderstandings.
You are in contact with other students from other alliances as well, how do you value this collaboration?
The contact with students from other alliances is a bonus for Arqus but also integral to the development of the European Universities Initiative as a whole, I hope at least. We learn a great deal from the others and it enables us to help share best practice examples. Currently we are mostly the ones sharing and helping others because we have had the support of Arqus to have a student council. Others are not as fortunate as we are, which is why we are very thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the alliance.
Why do you think it is key for the success of this initiative to involve and engage students?
The students' perspective is key to enable the alliances to evolve into more than alliances: Truly European Universities connecting cities all over Europe. If the idea of the European University would be imposed onto the singular universities top down, I see the possibility of the project to fail. To build trust, legitimacy and deep cooperation the students’ eye needs to be involved at every step. If the project also becomes a bottom up project we will all profit from the many creative ideas and initiatives. Filling the European University with life requires these ideas from lecturers, researchers and professors but also from our largest group: The students.
How do you envisage Arqus in 2030?
Of the goals for the European University Initiative and the creation of the European Higher Education Area laid out in Emmanuel Macrons speech New Initiative for Europe, the one most important for us is that half of all European students should have spent at least six months in another European country by the time they are 25 years old. And I’m excited that we will jointly work to achieve this goal as the University of Vilnius has prominently showed their support by awarding President Macron the Doctor Honoris Causa for this very speech. This gives me great confidence that Arqus will play a core role making this vision a reality. I hope that we will be allowing more than half of our students to study abroad in our seven cities by 2030.
Lasse Emcken is the President of the Arqus Student Council. Besides studying M.A. Sociology as well as B.Sc. Geography he has a long experience in student representation. This covers broad areas such as organizing trips and tours for new students or trying to improve the transportation infrastructure for students in Leipzig to representing the students in legislative processes of the regional parliament.
Moreover, we also had the chance to chat for a while with Gohar Hovhannisyan, President of the European Students’ Union (ESU). Gohar stressed that ESU is committed to assist the Arqus Alliance to ensure sustainable, democratic, student engagement over the coming years. She told us that as their responsibility, ESU is working closely with their member national student unions to inform, train, and bring together the students involved in the European Alliances. Gohar said that “our vision for the European Universities is student-centred where cooperation and co-creation with students is fully embraced and acted upon across the different levels of decision making”. “I believe the Arqus Student Council and the full membership of students in the Arqus Steering Committee are well advanced examples of student involvement in the European Universities initiative”, she continued.
For Arqus, internationalization is at the core of its policy priorities. We believe that internationalization contributes to research excellence and enhanced social impact; educating our students for tomorrow’s globalized society and labour market, to become critical, ethical, socially responsible citizens for Europe and the world, at a time when their commitment is essential for the future of the continent and the planet we live in.
Students’ internationalization through shared academic offer, whether it is short-term or full programmes, face-to-face or virtual, will guarantee that students have access to a much wider range of content and learning & teaching approaches, drawing on the complementarity of the partners in terms of academic strengths, expertise and international partnerships. This is one of the main Arqus’ objectives.
Happy International Students’ Day!