The authors presenting the Bergen Declaration during the European Students’ Union’s board meeting in Bergen in May. Photo: <span class="caps">ESU</span>
The authors presenting the Bergen Declaration during the European Students’ Union’s board meeting in Bergen in May. Photo: ESU

A global student movement

European students have joined the Global Student Voice and the first step in unifying the world’s students is completed. If the rest of the world’s students follow then the foundation of a global organization has been laid.

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The European Students’ Union (ESU) is announcing its formal adoption of the «Bergen Declaration», a global declaration drafted by student activists from all continents in Bergen, Norway in May.

International officer in Norwegian Students’ Union (NSO), Helge Schwitters, explains to Khrono that the main message in the declaration is the importance of students having a voice, and that voice being heard:

— It contains the common set of beliefs concerning access, the right to education, academic freedom, non-discriminatory practices in higher education, and that we want equal representation.

— Why is this document necessary?

— First and foremost because of what it might lead to. Many documents have been created by regional or national student unions before, but we wanted a common ground and a set of values, answers Schwitters, continuing:

Now more than ever before, students need to stand together in solidarity and demand our rights to self-organise, to enjoy freedom of speech and accessible
education.

Fernando Galán
President of the European Students’ Union

The declaration was the most important one on the board meeting - and spreading it will be central for the next few years.

Helge Schwitters
International officer, NSO

— It will now be easier to create networks between the signing unions - thus formalizing co-operation, and some day build an organization that can speak on behalf of all students in the world. This is the first step in that direction.

The beginning of something bigger

The Bergen Declaration was written during ESU’s 70th board meeting arranged by Norwegian Students’ Union (NSO) last month. The document contains the collectively agreed upon human rights aspects of higher education, and the goal is to achieve adoption all over the world.

The authors represented South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and the initiative to make this a part of the ESU board meeting was a joint effort from the Spanish Student Union, CREUP, and NSO.

Fernando Galán, President of the European Students’ Union, says in a statement that it was inspiring to meet student activists from across the globe and share in common concerns.

— Being united beyond regional borders, makes us truly stronger. This document is just the beginning of something bigger, and the start of a long term process, says Galán in the statement, and continues:

— A Global Student Voice will not be built all at once, but the Bergen Declaration sets the foundations from which a global student movement can be shaped. Now more than ever before, students need to stand together in solidarity and demand our rights to self-organize, to enjoy freedom of speech and accessible education.

Norwegian initiative

Fernando Galán says he was happy to see NSO take the lead in inviting student unions from all over the globe to participate in a joint seminar with ESU’s members in May.

Helge Schwitters (pictured below) says to Khrono that ESU’s adoption shows that the declaration already has support.

ESU is the main representation for students in the European decision making bodies, and covers almost all of Europe, he says, describing the organization representing 15 million students.

— The adopting shows that this is engaging people from the start.

Going global through representation

Even though the declaration was both written and adopted during an official ESU event, according to Schwitters, ESU waited formally with announcing it until it had been translated into French and Spanish. They are now working on a Russian translation, with an Arabic version to come.

— The declaration was an important one on the board meeting - and spreading it will be important for the next few years, says Norwegian international officer Helge Schwitters.

He explains that the declaration was written by a quite small group, to ensure a regional balance. All continents were represented.

— If opened up more it would be way more dominated by Europeans, and we did not have the funds to include every single country, he says, adding:

— I believe it worked quite well. Even though some were unable to get visas, or were part of ongoing demonstrations in their home countries, we fulfilled the goal of the group not being dominated by Europeans.