A student perspective on the EUniverCities meeting in Parma

The last EUniverCities meeting, held from 1 to 3 December 2021 in Parma, was exceptional in several ways. First of all, it was one of the very few international network meetings to take place in person since the beginning of the pandemic. All the participants enjoyed the vibrancy of a real-life meeting after a very long period of virtual meetings! But the meeting was also exceptional because for the first time, students were invited to participate. This article will zoom in on the experience of the students who represented the two Ghent-based higher education institutions that are members of EUniverCities: Artevelde University of Applied Sciences and Ghent University.

Artevelde University of Applied Sciences was represented by Nelly Achverdjanová who was doing an internship at the Artevelde’s International Relations Office. For Ghent University, two Law students who were taking an Erasmus semester in Italy were selected to join the network meeting in Parma: Cassandra Spataru (Firenze) and Wouter De Vos (Bologna).

Before the Parma meeting, all students representing the different institutions of the network were invited for 3 online preparatory meetings, guided by consultant Willem van Winden and a student representative from Parma. At those meetings, preliminary discussions on the three main topics of the meeting – housing, wellbeing and education – took place. During the meeting in Parma, the students took part in the general programme, and had a separate workshop where they continued discussing the topics that had been identified during the preparatory meetings. The students not only discussed the problems they encounter as students in their respective cities, but also proposed solutions to those problems. The coordinators of the network had a parallel discussion amongst each other, where also both problems and solutions were discussed. After those parallel discussions, both groups came together with the aim of producing a common document on student life at the institutions and in the cities. The outcomes of this meeting will be shared with the public soon, so watch this space!

The student delegation from Ghent was very enthusiastic about their participation in the meeting. “I felt a genuine interest of the other participants in what we had to say”, said Cassandra at the end of the three-day meeting. As the Ghent University students were already immersed in an international experience as Erasmus students, this meeting with a group of students from all over Europe enhanced their international experience even more. “Although it was very interesting to learn good practice in student services from all over Europe, sometimes the language proved a problem to properly understand each other”, Wouter added. “But nevertheless, we found ways to understand each other and learned a lot from each other.”

Both Ghent University students discovered during their Erasmus stay and the Parma meeting that Ghent University is making a lot of efforts in the field of student wellbeing, especially since the pandemic. This was even cited in an Italian newspaper (pictured) where Cassandra was quoted stating that the university has been contacting all students every other 3 weeks to inform them about psychological wellbeing. She hopes that this attention to wellbeing continues even after the end of the pandemic: a message that will definitely be sent through to the university board! "We have discussed a lot of great plans in terms of how to take even better care of the wellbeing of students, which could help students and universities all over Europe", added Nelly after the meeting. "Thanks to this meeting we could address a big issue all over Europe, which is housing for students, and I was very pleasantly surprised about all the ideas students from other universities had. It was definitely an important step to include students in this meeting because they can bring a new point of view for all the problems that we face.’’

“We have seldom had such a feeling of involvement: this should happen more often”, Wouter concluded, extending an invitation to the network to think about more structural student participation in the long term. A message which was well received by the network, and also by representatives from the City of Ghent who took part in the meeting. “It’s interesting to see how students look at these problems on a whole other level. They have a much more pragmatic approach and really think in terms of solutions. Their insights have proven to be very helpful. We must keep on involving them in this network”, the two representatives of the city of Ghent – Jeroen Paeleman and Adelbrecht Haenebalcke – said in their summary of the Parma meeting.  


Secretariat EUniverCities
University of Exeter - E-mail:eunivercities@exeter.ac.uk - To keep in touch with us, please subscribe to our Newsletter

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