By Enrique Sanchez
Opinion/Politics Section Editor
Covid-19, political instability, and the climate crisis have made us stop taking our future for granted. One of the many things that have been particularly affected by the ongoing pandemic is student mobility. Most of us have not been able to travel across Europe and take part in a greater student community. Like many, I spent most of the winter in my student room, disappointed because all my plans to visit a university abroad had gone pear-shaped.
Last December, I decided to apply for a virtual mobility programme with the Freie Universität in Berlin. I signed up for the course “20th Century Berlin: People, Places Words” which was supposed to start in January. The whole concept of virtual mobility seemed a bit funny since the only real mobility was walking from my bed to my desk. However, I decided to look at the bright side and think that at least I had access to what seemed like a fascinating course. Not only was it engaging but a memorable experience. I connected with students from different universities, and after each class, I looked forward to the next one. Once again, I felt I was part of a greater student community contributing not only as a student of KU Leuven but also as an international student in Europe.
This experience is precisely what I think the university of the future should be like. A university that makes student mobility available for everyone even in times of uncertainty or turmoil. I could virtually be in Berlin for a couple of hours a day thanks to an alliance called Una Europa. KU Leuven and other 8 leading European universities have come together to facilitate mobility, interaction, and collaboration within the European student community Una Europa, which “aims to draw on our collective strengths to create a truly European inter-university environment, a University of the Future.
First Student Congress Una Europa
On February 24th, the first Student Congress of Una Europa took place, hosting over 300 students from the 8 different universities that form the alliance: KU Leuven, Freie Universität Berlin, Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, University of Edinburgh, Helsingin Yliopisto/Helsingfors Universitet, Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie
Collegium Novum at Jagiellonian University, Universidad Complutense de Madrid,
and the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.
During the congress, the alliance’s main aims and ongoing projects were explained, including the project of devising joint degrees that should be made available in September 2022.
Virtual Mobility in Emergency
Covid-19 has made us rethink the idea of mobility. Universities worldwide have made difficult decisions such as cancelling any type of mobility for the time being. However, in a globalised world where technology is reshaping the future, traditional models of education are being challenged. I participated in a virtual winter school in Berlin earlier this year thanks to one of Una Europa initiatives- Virtual Mobility in Emergency.
Networking and Socialising
One of the best things about being part of a European university is the possibility of getting to know students from all over Europe. Free movement has always been one of the core values of the European Union. However, Covid-19 has made it nearly impossible to physically travel and connect with students outside our home institutions. The last section of the First Student Congress Una Europa was a virtual lunch in which participants had the chance to socialise and get to know Student Board members and other fellow attendees. It was an enjoyable experience and gave me a taste of what I had been craving – connections and socialising with students from all over Europe in an informal setting, sharing our experiences, and having a much needed laugh.
I believe that universities of the future should encourage more connectivity across the continent and promote interdisciplinary collaboration within student communities . The universities of the future should also tackle pressing issues such as sustainable travel and affordability. We should definitely keep an eye on Una Europa’s work and get involved to help shape the university experience we all dream of.
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