In celebration of the International Students’ Day, the European Students Union (ESU) calls for freedom of movement, freedom to study and freedom to live in dignity. The campaign is an international observance of student activism that commemorates past student struggles and draws attention to the current ones. More than 30 student organisations, international student platforms and civil society organisations from five continents co-signed the call and supported the campaign. Thanks to its own website page, Facebook event page and Twitter hashtags #17now, #free2learn, #free2move and #freeeducation, the campaign reached around 1.1 million users on social media.
ESU states that “we need to remember what the previous generations have left us. Students have been in the forefront of the movement for change, such as during the 1939’s anti Nazi manifestations in Prague where nine student leaders were executed without trial by the Nazis, or during uprising against the Greek military junta of 1973 where a tank crushed the gates of the Athens Polytechnic University.”
Today, when Europe is facing rising extremism and xenophobia, students need to have their voices and opinions heard, the European students stress. They want European countries to commit to an education system free of costs and fees, discrimination and fear. Implementing effective measures to allow the continuation of studies or the beginning of new education and training paths should be at the top of the European international education agenda, in times when integration, social inclusion and education for all those who cannot afford a decent one is more then needed to foster the European identity.
The crucial response
“Education is the first and most important tool to achieve freedom: it is the only tool that leads to freedom of thought, self-consciousness and awareness of your surroundings; it is also the only tool that, once achieved, can never be taken away from anyone.” says Fernando Galán, chairperson of ESU. “We want to remind that education, as a human right, should not be denied to anyone for any reason, especially not to refugees or displaced persons.”
“4 days after the tragic happenings in Paris this call is the crucial response to all those who believe we should respond to hate-crimes with more hate, exclusions and social exclusion. This call – says the Board of OBESSU – is a wake up call for governments to invest in education, to welcome refugees escaping violence and to promote real global citizenship values aimed at the social inclusion of all the components of our school, university and local communities”
On this International Day he and his colleagues stress three keyprinciples:
Freedom of movement
Students call on governments all over the world to guarantee the right to study to everyone regardless of their socio-economic, cultural background, religion and sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.
Freedom to live in dignity
Students call on States to stop this trend of public cuts and to properly finance education. Promotion of active citizenship and intercultural and inter-religious understanding is crucial to combat and halt once and for all the populist racist movements on the rise around the world.
Freedom to study
Students call on leaders from across the world to find pathways to the recognition of prior learning of the many students who are moving from one part of the world to another.
Why November 17?
The 17th of November is a special day in HE-history. In 1939, following the death of the student Jan Opletal in Prague, thousands of fellow students turned his funeral in yet another anti-Nazi demonstration. This lead to drastic measures being taken by the Nazis. All Czech higher education institutions were closed down; more than 1200 students were taken and sent to concentration camps, and the most hideous crime of all: nine students were executed without trial on the 17th of November.
To commemorate those tragic events, the date of 17th November has been chosen to be the International Students’ Day. The Athens Polytechnic uprising against the Greek military junta of 1973 came to a climax on November 17, with a violent crackdown and a tank crushing the gates of the university. The Day of the Greek Students is today among the official student holidays in Greece. The 1989 Prague demonstrations for International Students Day helped spark the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day is today marked among both the official holidays in the Czech Republic (since 2000, thanks to the efforts of the Czech Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions) and the holidays in Slovakia.