VILNIUS – A new Belarus Student Representatives Exchange Scheme will be launched this spring, aiming at major topics related to student representation in the region and beyond such as the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), Student Participation in the Higher Education Governance, Quality Assurance in Higher Education and Enhancement of the Academic Integrity. This Exchange Scheme will provide students’ representatives with the skills and know-how on how to advocate students´ interests efficiently.
In addition, it was recently decided to establish a permanent assistance platform to consult and support around thirty local student initiatives at various universities in Belarus. That decision was made following an evaluation of the collaboration among Belarusian students and their counterparts in Europe.
“The European Students´ Union (ESU) has a crucial role to play to ensure the continuity of the dialogue and to strengthen student representation in Belarus. We should never underestimate the contributions individuals and National Unions of Students can make to improve the situation for students,” Maksim Milto, Vice-President of the Lithuanian National Union of Students (LSS) says.
Lithuania’s expertise on Belarus
One of the core interests of LSS has been to support improved representation of students in Belarus, where a combination of various approaches has been applied in the past years. It participates in the Belarus Working Group (BWG) of ESU along with its counterparts from Latvia, Ukraine and Malta and Nevena Vuksanovic, who is a member of the Executive Committee of ESU. This is according to a decision made at ESU´s 60th Board Meeting that was held in Tallinn, Estonia, where the BWG was given its mandate.
At the beginning of its mandate, the BWG focused on carrying out Country Study Visits in relation to the interest of authorities in Belarus to apply for a membership to the EHEA. Although the application has been dismissed by the evaluation committee due to the lack of compliance with key principles of the Bologna process, such as limitation to academic freedom and student participation, it also confirms that ESU and its member unions cannot close their eyes on the developments in Belarus. Therefore, the expertise of LSS can be rightly utilised to empower the student representatives there to find ways to fight for their rights, which is not easy in the given context.
“Another reflection of the Belarus reality concerns the European Humanities University, which is the only private liberal arts university founded in Minsk in 1992 and forced to move to Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2005 due to political pressure. Around 1800 students from Belarus are enrolled for BA, MA and PhD programmes there. The university also serves as a shelter for many academics from Belarus, rescuing them from the political pressure in their homeland,” Milto says.
Belarus is the only European country that is not a member of the European higher education area. Severe shortcomings have been revealed concerning recognitions of prior education, transparency and student mobility.