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The voice of Una Europa students

We have been asking different stakeholders about what Una Europa means to them. In this article, members of the Una Europa Student Board talk about their involvement with Una Europa and the 1Europe project, discussing their role in realising Una Europa’s ambitions and vision for the University of the Future.

Establishing The Student Board

The Student Board is made up of student representatives from across our eight partner Universities. In April 2019, students from each of the universities came together for the first time to discuss the Student Board, what they would like to see student participation in the Una Europa project look like, as well as the projects that the students’ would like to be priorities. At our official kick-off event of 1Europe in January 2020, the Student Board held their first official meeting moving ambition to action, electing Andrew Wilson, President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association, as President of Una Europa’s Student Board.

" I am so pleased to have been elected President of the Una Europa Student Board and to have the privilege to, additional to my commitment to represent the students of Edinburgh, represent the interests of over 415,000 students from the Una Europa partners. "

Andrew Wilson, student representative of the University of Edinburgh

The importance of the Student Board for realising our ambitions

The Student Board’s role is to act as a unified voice for students, who are indeed a major stakeholder in the alliance. The Board brings together the different ideas, perspectives and experiences of the student representatives from across our partner universities to think collaboratively. Student experience and teaching varies across countries and cultures, yet there are common themes which unify us all. One of the themes common amongst the students is sustainability – which is one of the four key focus areas for our alliance.

" The success of an alliance is largely determined by whether the students feel the impact of the alliance. "

Topias Tolonen, student representative of Helsingin Yliopisto

Topias Tolonen, student representative of Helsingin Yliopisto thinks, “The success of an alliance is largely determined by whether the students feel the impact of the alliance, and not only as a fantastic brand recognition, but also as the options available for all students, realised by UNA Europa. The student perspective is crucial in these to bring the much-wanted diversity to the decision-making boards, hopefully also to the preparatory and quality assurance work. That is, the Student Board needs to make sure that the alliance impacts students in every decision.

Collectively, the Student Board will ensure that students’ needs are a priority. It is recognised that in an ever-changing society, students could play a really important role in understanding some aspects of our society and giving a different point of view on the matters. Tomasso Di Mambro, student representative of the Università di Bologna said,
the first Rector of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world, was a student. Sometimes stepping back is actually a big step forward, and I think that in today’s society letting students have a major decisional role could lead to great innovations.

" The first Rector of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world, was a student. Sometimes stepping back is actually a big step forward. "

Tomasso Di Mambro, student representative of the Università di Bologna

Vision for The University of the Future

Universities across Europe share different ideas of what it means to be a university, however there appears to be a shared thought process that the university we see today will not disappear entirely in the future. However, it is assumed that the universities of the future will overcome the growing pains in digitalisation.

Topias Tolonen believes in short that we will have “independent universities with high freedom of academia with easy and incentivised mobility. Mobility for both student and staff is easy, and the selection for single courses would be frictionless between different universities. Una Europa provides an opportunity for students to have a global outlook and outreach. It gives connectivity across Europe, fundamental to students who are often looking at the global picture and how they can make connections across the globe. Andrew Wilson thinks, “this is a perfect example of a modern university and a modern scheme that allows students to connect with other students from different countries who have similar thoughts and interests and are working on similar projects.”

Comprising of some of the oldest universities in Europe, our Una Europa partner institutions are looking to the future to develop and pave the way for new educational teaching and research methods, including blended learning, joint degrees and increased mobility. Under the 1Europe project, our alliance will create a new style of university and will help to facilitate the expansion of these new teaching and research methods to other universities. Esther Ruiz-Capillas Muñoz', student representative of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, vision is that, “European universities like UNA Europa will become a very popular option to do a degree. Students will have the opportunity to decide the country in which they want to study their subjects and to attend some classes or workshops that are being taught in the other countries by online assisting.

Andrew Wilson said, “Each of the universities in UNA Europa is steeped in history, they’re some of the oldest universities in and across Europe and I think that it’s really interesting that they’re all coming together to all subscribe to this modern look, feel and vision of universities and higher education.”

Working with the partner universities and looking to the future

In general discussion amongst the student representatives, it is believed that the universities within Una Europa geographically represent European universities quite well, with each bringing different points of view for making our European university experience enjoyable and interesting for all students. However, Topias Tolonen says, the most interesting of the partner universities is certainly Edinburgh – how does Brexit affect the alliance and what becomes the role of the only university not located in an EU country?

There will be challenges to face, but our student representatives are ready and eager. They are some of our many stakeholders now working on the 1Europe project that tackles our alliance’s aims via a range of initiatives, such as the Future UniLab, which will be a living laboratory to develop and test the new methodologies necessary to operate future universities. In 10 years, Una Europa could have established a state-of-the-art mobility window for both students and researchers, which allow the members of different universities to continuously access the courses and facilities of different universities,” says Topias Tolonen. That’s an extremely exciting prospect indeed.

Story by Fiona Murray, The University of Edinburgh