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Students complain they weren’t consulted on EU Covid funding

Image: DesignRage, via Shutterstock

European Students’ Union says youth should have more say over €750 billion of recovery spending

Students have complained about not having enough input on how the EU should spend its €750 billion pandemic recovery fund, Next Generation EU.

The European Students’ Union said on 10 June that its members and other civil society organisations had faced “systematic exclusion” from consultations held to shape member states’ spending plans.

“Either caused by a…lack of transparency or deliberate lack of involvement, many civil society organisations did not have an opportunity to contribute to the [plans] and steer them towards the needs and priorities of their constituents,” the ESU said.

Development ‘behind closed doors’

For example, the ESU said the Italian student union UDU “expressed several times its positions to fix the numerous problems” with Italian higher education, but that preparation of Italy’s spending plan “happened behind closed doors without any consultations of the stakeholders”.

ESU said the Slovakian union, ŠRVŠ, said that recovery funds were allocated “according to the parliamentary strength of the government’s coalition parties” and that consultations were limited. It said ŠRVŠ had submitted five comments and contacted the ministries of education and finance in September “requesting to be involved in the process, but it has not received a response ever since”.

Research Professional News contacted the Italian and Slovakian finance ministries and the Slovakian education ministry for comment on the claims.

The Slovakian education ministry said it had “properly discussed” its proposed reforms “with all relevant stakeholders, including ŠRVŠ”, and that the union was “officially and always invited to all discussions”.

It said its plans included reform of: a residency permit process for international students, a scholarship scheme, the renovation of university buildings and including students in mental health policy.

Under consideration

The European Commission is currently considering countries’ investment and reform plans against the fund’s objectives. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said it will sign off the first ones next week.

One of the six ‘pillars’ of the Recovery and Resilience Facility—a €672.5bn slice of Next Generation EU that will make national payments—is focused on policies for “the youth, such as education and skills”.

ESU said the Commission should look into the participation of civil society groups in the preparation of spending plans and check whether the plans follow the fund legislation in their support for students.

Update 11/6 – This article was updated with the response from the Slovakian education ministry.