ESAN: Seminar “Poverty and precarious students in Europe”
Poverty and precariousness: a reality
Poverty and material precariousness of students affect all European countries. The latest Eurostudent survey reveals that in several countries, the median income of students is below the poverty line. In others, more than one-third face serious financial difficulties. This often results in recourse to precarious and poorly paid jobs or to indebtedness, a phenomenon that is common in Anglo-Saxon countries. These are causes of failure for many.
This situation, which leads to other precarious situations in housing and food needs, has consequences for the health of students, with many cases of isolation and depression. Besides, the development of student prostitution cannot be ignored.
A subject that fits in the history and culture of each country
Student precariousness is not a new subject in European societies (Erasmus, which has become the symbol of the European mobility of young people, was a poor student). For a long time, different ways of life and thought have been created in Europe according to the models of society. Thus, a student from the Nordic countries will often be autonomous at a very young age whereas in southern countries, he would have to stay longer with his parents. In the same way, it is accepted in some countries that public aid to students constitutes the largest part of their resources, while in others it will be more conceivable for students to work so as not to depend completely on these aids.
States in the front line
Since the 1960s European states, under the pressure of public opinion, have taken various social measures – financial aid and grants – and, more generally, political decisions including student social housing, access to public transport, etc. Here and there, support schemes have emerged in regions and local communities.
Nevertheless, all European countries share the characteristic of having failed, whatever the aid systems put in place, to reduce the precariousness faced by many students.
Major associations as actors of solidarity
Besides the intervention of the public authorities, many initiatives are taken by civil society actors at local, national and European level. Associations and student unions but also humanitarian associations constitute a real and efficient network of solidarity and see their role grow according to needs.
The role of the European institutions
While some progress has been made in harmonizing training in Europe, the social dimension of the Bologna process has not really materialized in the fight against poverty and precariousness.
However, decisions such as the establishment of the ESF and the FEAD, even if they do not specifically concern students, go in the right direction. On the other hand, in addition to the work of the EESC, strong commitments such as the Goteborg Declaration of November 2017 on the European Pillar of Social Rights or the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe could serve as support for a more ambitious political approach.
In this context, ESAN (European Social Action Network) organizes a seminar at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Far from accepting a fatalism that would make precarious a necessary step for a large group of students, we want to bring together the actors directly concerned (student associations, universities) but also solidarity associations and representatives of the European institutions to dialogue in order to strengthen solidarity in all its forms and to act together to create better living conditions and studies for students.