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Una Europa students join forces with peers to enact lasting change at the European Student Assembly

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With 23 million young people in Europe set to vote for the first time this June, youth political engagement is high on the agenda. For 16 Una Europa students, shaping the future of Europe came early as they worked together with their peers from across the continent and beyond to tackle pressing societal challenges at the European Student Assembly (ESA).

Three months of collaborative work to research a key challenge, debate best solutions, and formulate policy recommendations culminated in three days at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where students presented their policy for validation by their peers.

ESA is a grassroots project gathering students from European Universities alliances to debate current issues, draft policy recommendations to shape the future of Europe, and advocate for them to their peers as well as key decision-makers. This year’s Assembly was bigger than ever, bringing together over 250 students from 41 European Universities alliances to delve into 11 global challenges, putting their policy and collaborative skills to the test by developing recommendations to shape Europe’s future for the better.

One month on from their European Parliament experience, our Una Europa representatives share their perspectives on the Assembly, its impact and what happens next.

“I have the feeling that we are not alone with our worries and hopes – we are Una.”

Venla Ailasmäki is a master’s student in Global Politics at Helsingin yliopisto/Helsingfors universitet and acted as panel coordinator for her team at ESA. An Una Europa expert, Venla first became involved in the alliance through the Una Europa One Health Summer School in 2022 and has since shaped the direction of our activity through involvement in her institution’s Una Europa Local Student Task Force.

“I applied to participate in ESA because I wanted to learn more about the European Parliament and different opportunities to boost youth engagement in European politics and decision-making. I also wanted to meet students from different countries – to hear how they view the EU and the questions they feel are important to our future.

“It is good for universities and students themselves to see what we share and what is different when thinking about what is important in politics, society and more. Different views can spark new ideas and motivation, strengthening our community.

“For me the best part of ESA was, as a panel coordinator, I saw how fast our team members went from strangers to friends in a matter of hours, and to see the ideas that developed from that! I also enjoyed the sunshine and the deep conversations during our morning walks to the Parliament, sharing our thoughts and experiences.

“Being part of Una Europa has enabled me to learn and connect with the people and the world around me. I love that people I’ve met through the alliance are always motivated to engage in deeper conversation and are curious about each other’s perspectives and experiences. It gives me the feeling that we are not alone with our worries and hopes about the future – we are Una.”

“Adding my voice to this choir of students was an opportunity I will not forget.”

Logan Sunnarborg is currently working towards a Master’s in International Law at Helsingin yliopisto/Helsingfors universitet. His ESA experience concentrated on pushing the EU to be a more responsible, international actor in our increasingly globalised world, drawing on his own perspective as a non-EU student studying in the EU:

“Regardless of the institution – universities, national governments, or the European Union – student representation matters and the student opinion needs to be heard. ESA provided an opportunity to do just that. Each student who participated brought with them a unique perspective and passion for change. Being able to add my voice to this choir was an opportunity I will not forget.

“While the proposals we crafted serve as valuable indicators of student priorities, and can pave the way for meaningful change, the lasting impact lies in all the amazing people I met during my time at ESA. Gathering such a diverse group of students contributed to the important exchange of ideas and discussions on the future of the EU. From this network, I am confident we will all continue to be change-makers and will recall the power behind a collective voice.

“Despite not coming from the EU, I am very thankful that initiatives like Una Europa and European Universities communities provide avenues for students, like myself, to be heard. Europe has been and will continue to be home for people from all across the world – a reality that cannot be ignored. While not all students who attended the Assembly may be able to vote, we can still have a say. It is great knowing a larger network out there is helping to bridge this gap.

“The Assembly's ability to gather a diverse array of students, facilitate fruitful exchanges of ideas, and unite voices in advocacy is an important practice and made for an unforgettable experience.”

“I had the impression that our policy recommendations could have real impact in the near future.”

Maria Ferăstrău is a student at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and also represents her institution on the Una Europa Student Board. Participating in Panel 2 – Greener is better: How can the EU establish a responsible growth in the context of climate change? Maria made the most of her time in Strasbourg by connecting with classmates across Europe, putting her preparatory research into practice and refining the policy recommendations of her fellow students through inter-panel debates.

“Us students are the cornerstone of our universities – it is essential that we are included.”

Returning to ESA for the second time, Danel Van Mensel acted as panel coordinator for Panel 1 – European Election Year: How to tackle the lack of (and dis-)information and encourage citizens’ engagement in the upcoming elections? Danel is currently enrolled in our Una Europa Joint Bachelor of Arts in European Studies, which has enabled him to study diverse perspectives on Europe and the world at both Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna.

“As a participant in last year’s edition of ESA, I enjoyed the event so much that I wanted to return for this year! I have gained many opportunities through these experiences – I have been invited by the European Commission to discuss the European Degree and presented the student voice to France Universités. These are my favourite moments, since I was able to showcase the hard work we put into creating our policy recommendations to these prestigious institutions.

“Not only is ESA a very rich academic experience, with the intense policy drafting students carry out, but we also get to meet many bright students from all over Europe. It was awesome to walk around the European Parliament and start conversations with other students I met. The diversity of the participants, due to the different European Universities alliances we come from, was remarkable, and motivated us to learn more about this new concept of the European Universities Community.

“There is still so little knowledge about European Universities alliances so it is essential that students themselves start understanding them. Being able to represent our alliances, we feel much closer to them and appreciate the initiatives offered by them. Besides, since us students are the cornerstone of our universities, it is essential that we are included in their events and can represent them.

“I am currently a student on the Una Europa Joint Bachelor’s in European Studies, which offers me an interdisciplinary curriculum where I study at three different universities throughout my degree. Una Europa was the first alliance that managed to create such a degree at bachelor’s level. Therefore, it feels great to be part of such an innovative and ambitious alliance and I look forward to contributing to future events!”

“ESA has empowered me to be an active agent of change."

An online master’s student in Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, Amanda Wanyonyi’s participation in ESA highlights the significance of voices from outside the EU to shaping Europe’s shared future. Amanda chose to be part of Panel 8: Cure of the future – What approach should the EU adopt regarding health and more particularly the advancements of biomedicine?, allowing her to draw and build on her academic experience by applying her knowledge of public health concepts to develop practical global health policy that safeguards Europe’s future:

“ESA champions student voices by debating current issues and drafting policy recommendations, providing me with an avenue to collaborate with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, unites by a shared goal – driving positive change. By working together, we can leverage our collective knowledge and expertise to address pressing challenges facing Europe and the world.

“I had always wondered how different European institutions worked, and there I was at the European Parliament, participating in recommendations and inter-panel discussions, and voting for different recommendations. ESA has empowered me to be an active agent of change, fostering a sense of responsibility and commitment to addressing global challenges.

“It can be difficult to feel like you belong to the University’s community as an online student, and more often than not, one can find themselves immersed solely in studies because that is what they have – or so they think. Being part of a European Universities alliance such as Una Europa has given me a sense of belonging.”

What happens next?

The political recommendations approved at ESA 2024 are developed and supported by a diverse community of 230 students from all corners of Europe. Sharing these with relevant stakeholders, policymakers and educational institutions secures our students’ role as active agents and co-creators in shaping the future of Europe. In this year of political elections, let’s listen to student voices and work together to make them heard, creating a shared future that we can all be proud of.

Explore the policy recommendations of ESA 2024

Student representation at Una Europa: Meet the Una Europa Student Board