News: Establishing of ESAA met with both enthusiasm and critique

DG EAC formally announced the launch of Erasmus+ Students and Alumni Association (ESAA) this Friday, 12th of June with a kick-off conference. About 250 participants were invited, including founding associations, representatives from the European Comimsion, and stakeholder representatives who have been involved in ESAA.

The new association is supported by DG EAC and represent uniting for existing associations under one umbrella, Erasmus Student Network (ESN), Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA), the garagErasmus Foundation and Erasmus+ Oceans.

The website highlights ESAA aim to  be a “dynamic platform for networking, professional development and intercultural learning while promoting European Higher Education and worldwide cooperation”. On the press site, it is also highlighted that the foreseen aim is to develop projects and improve quality of education, in addition to providing an alumni network. You can view the presentations from the launch here, where they highlight the aims of the new organization.

The Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport,  Tibor Navracsics, said about ESAA in the press release: “Erasmus+ is one of Europe’s flagship projects, and rightly so. Studying in another country, whether for a short or longer period, is a great experience for young Europeans: It helps them to enhance their skills as well as to understand and accept cultural and other differences. Student and alumni associations offer crucial support to help young people make the most of this opportunity – before, during and after their stay abroad. That is why I am very pleased that ESAA will help to channel this support and know-how even more effectively. I am looking forward to seeing new activities that will further improve the mobility experience, encourage networking and help promote the opportunities Erasmus+ offers to a wider audience.”

It appears that the event was marked with enthusiasm by those attending, and in social media the role of networking amongst members was frequently highlighted. For discussions and photos from the event – follow the #ESAAkickoff hashtag on Twitter.

However, the establishment of ESAA has also been met with considerable critique from ESU – the European Student Union, who has raised concerns about the representative nature of ESAA, Commission involvement in shaping a student organization and the kind of policy agenda that is being pushed.

In social media, repeated concerns by a number of student representatives (current and former) have been raised regarding the representative function of ESAA due to the blended nature of the organization and close ties to the Commission.

ESU also links the launching ESAA to the new Masters Loan Scheme, which ESU has been critical of. Chairperson of ESU, Elisabeth Gehrke explains: “We have since the start been critical of the Master loan scheme. The fact that the launch of the loan scheme was highlighted in combination with this attack on independent student representation must be someone in the DG EACs idea of a funny joke. We are not laughing. The dangers of student debt, and the right to organise are serious matters“.

Furthermore, ESU plans to take the matter further: “This situation is very worrying to say the least. Since no clear answers have been given we have no choice but to take action to ensure that independent student organisations will be fairly represented. We will invite all of them to a meeting to see how we can help protect their right to organise. We will also be reporting DG EAC and this process to the European Ombudsman so the situation can be independently assessed and all questions can be answered“.

In their press release, ESU highlight a number of concerns they plan to follow up – linked to a number of concrete issues, including: the principles of inclusion of organizations that is not clear, the use of service provider contracts instead of direct funding, influence on representation and agendas, transparency of funding, ambiguities in the process of establishing the organization and the selection of specific policy objectives the organization has been linked to.