This year, June didn’t just mark the beginning of Summer, but the second European Student Assembly (also known as the ESA) – a global event aimed at connecting students from all over Europe in a joint effort to foster change, work for a better tomorrow, and make their voices heard. Four students representing ECIU University took part in the Assembly. We asked some of them what it was like – and what made the ESA a one-of-a-kind experience.
Held in the European Parliament in Strasburg from May 31st to June 2nd, ESA 23 gathered over 200 people who participated in 10 panels and debated subjects from mental health to inclusive education to sustainability. It all started back in 2022 – as a flagship European Universities Community project. The European Student Assembly called on hundreds of students from European University Alliances to speak up and unite for a shared purpose – shaping a better future for Europe.
The ESA was created to contribute to European democracy by closing the gap between the citizens and the decision-makers. Even more importantly, it set a goal of voicing the opinions and thoughts of students from different European universities, countries, backgrounds, fields, and levels of study by bringing them together and inspiring discussion. Students would debate current issues, draft political recommendations and later advocate them – laying the foundation for potential change.
Among these students were Ebunoluwa Jambgadi and Jacob Blasius, representing ECIU University.
‘University alliances are still a novel concept, so the opportunity to interact with like-minded students across Europe felt quite exciting’, – says Jacob, a Language and International Studies student at Aalborg University and an ECIU University board member.
‘I wanted to join because I really liked the idea behind the assembly. – adds Ebunoluwa, an Economics, Politics, and Law major at Dublin City University – Being able to voice my opinion and actively participate felt really enticing. And having the opportunity to go to the European Parliament in Strasbourg was a bonus on top’.
They took part in a panel each – Jacob’s team offered suggestions on how universities can make access to skills and knowledge more available to the students, while Ebunoluwa and her peers focused on reducing the gap between citizens and policymakers.
It was all about discussion, but also about way more than that.
Ebunoluwa says the Assembly helped her grow in many ways, from improving her debating skills to offering unique networking opportunities. But most importantly, it was a way to embrace new perspectives – something that could eventually help narrow the gap between the students and the decision-makers.
One of Ebunoluwa’s stand-out memories of the ESA23 is the voting process that allowed her to step into the European Parliament Member’s shoes. It wasn’t the only part of the Assembly that helped the Politics major see things from a different angle, though.
‘Considering different perspectives, participating in debates and negotiating are all part of the MEP’s job, so being able to experience all that was incredible. – she says – It also made me realize the impact that parliament’s actions and recommendations have on people’s lives’.
Meanwhile, Jacob points out the Assembly’s potential for building relationships and sharing experiences as a way to both challenge one’s way of thinking and get a deeper understanding of how decision-making works – and how you can make each input count.
‘The Assembly helped me better understand various perspectives on higher education across Europe and appreciate the diverse contexts and unique challenges that universities in different regions face’, - he explains, adding this experience will be crucial to his future studies in International Relations.
These are some of the ESA23’s biggest strengths, Jacob adds – fostering connections and broadening perspectives.
‘For me, the Assembly was an opportunity to learn from students across Europe. I hope that even more students will have the chance to connect with their peers from other countries in the future’.
With 10 panels held, various proposals discussed, and 75 political recommendations aimed at addressing Europe’s most burning challenges voted on, it may seem like the Assembly had come to an end. However, its most important part has only just begun.
Up next – informing the policymakers about the Assembly’s outcomes. This year’s results have already been shared with over 50 members of the European Parliament, marking the first step to getting the students’ thoughts heard and making their ideas a reality. Among those who replied is French President Emanuel Macron’s office which has invited students to join a meeting in the Autumn.
Meanwhile, European University alliances that participated in the ESA have been focusing on empowering young voices, each in their own way. Since 2019, ECIU University has included two ECIU member university students as the Board members, representing both the students’ interests and perspectives on the most important matters. Moreover, it has introduced the position of an ECIU University learner engagement coordinator who serves as a bridge between learners and the rest of the community, guiding students in their networking aspirations.
Recently the spot was filled by Ryan Wakamiya – a University of Twente alumni who has been part of various ECIU University activities and initiatives for over 2 years.
‘My dream is to see learners worldwide build a community that works together to solve real societal challenges – and truly learn from each other’, he explains.
It’s also part of a bigger, joint goal – granting students a well-deserved opportunity to make a real impact.
‘ECIU University is all about closing the gap between academia and society. - says Olga Wessels, head of ECIU Brussels office – The importance of the learners’ ideas on urgent societal issues cannot be overestimated. We need their bright minds, diversity, and creativity’.
‘Through projects like ESA, we hope to solve societal challenges together with our learners, other alliances, policymakers and stakeholders from all over Europe’.
© All photos were taken by Ebunoluwa Jamgbadi