After finishing his first degree, Predrag Lazetic, a Serbian student, was happy to be admitted to a Master’s degree program in Germany. Well in advance of the beginning of his course, Predrag applied for his student visa, which he was told would take between four and five weeks.
However, he soon realised things were not going his way. First he had to pay a visa application fee of 75 €. Then he had to pay about 200 € more for translations of the many documents required. Then he had to wait three months before receiving any answer to his visa application. Anxious that the programme would start without him, Predrag explored the possibility of getting another type of visa in order to be able to enter the European Union. However, the second process was not possible while the student visa application process was ongoing. It wasn’t until two full months after his programme had started that Predrag finally got his student visa and could begin his studies. Since 1999, European ministers responsible for higher education have worked together in the so-called Bologna Process, aiming at creating a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) that will be attractive to European students and researchers, as well as to students and researchers from abroad. One of the goals is facilitation of academic mobility for students, academic and administrative staff. Despite intensive intergovernmental cooperation and promises, many students like Predrag continue to experience frustrating delays, costly obstacles, and lost educational opportunities. Education International and the European Students’ Union continue to receive reports about economic barriers, non-recognition of academic merits gained abroad, and discrimination based on gender, age or cultural background hindering mobility. EI and ESU believe that mobility is important for students and academic staff to gain new skills, to become aware of the importance of international cooperation, and to learn to work in a multicultural environment. The higher education institutions can only develop and further their quality if their academic staff and students are internationally-oriented. European identity can only be developed if people can move across borders freely. For peace and prosperity to develop, society needs highly-educated citizens who are able to interact across cultures. EI and ESU want mobility grants to be available for at least 20 percent of all students; all work periods abroad for staff to be recognized for recruitment and promotion; free language courses in every higher education institution for students and staff; free visa and residence permits for students and staff in higher education; social benefits and pension schemes to be mobile across European borders; and a European Charter for Mobile University Teachers to be developed. In order to encourage governments in the EHEA to fulfil their goals and promises, EI and ESU are carrying out a campaign called “Let’s Go!” It is trying to identify remaining obstacles to European academic mobility and propose solutions. The campaign will close with a conference in October 2008, where a petition with student and teacher demands will be presented to the European ministries responsible for higher education. For more information about the campaign please visit www.letsgocampaign.net By Nina Gustafsson