Una Europa 3rd Student Congress, which took place at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, brought together 48 students representing the eight participating Una universities to focus on the vision of the University of the Future. During the three days of Student Congress (26th-28th October 2022), the participants were focusing on reimagining the idea of education in the future, improving student networks, and ensuring sustainability as a priority at all levels, all enclosed by the concept of Future UniLab, Una Europa’s think tank.
Student Congress, created by and for young, creative people, provided students from Berlin, Bologna, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Kraków, Leuven, Madrid, and Paris with a forum for discussion regarding the future role of universities within European societies. Moreover, it enabled transdisciplinary, alliance-wide collaboration on solving fundamental problems and finding solutions to real challenges, as well as discovering how students themselves can contribute to the work of the Future UniLab.
The first day began with an opening ceremony, which welcomed the coming alliance’s students to Jagiellonian University and the Student Congress itself. The welcoming reception began with an opening speech by professor Stanisław Kistryn, the Rector's Proxy for Cooperation within the Framework of Una Europa, who emphasised the indispensable role of the students within the Una Europa community to create a new type of institution with many distinct, yet integrated communities where people would want to work together 'to create the future'. Afterwards, the participants listened to the speeches of Jagiellonian University students, Marco Reyes Bernal (former JU student and Student Board Co-Chair), Natalia Szymańska (1st Board JU Representative), and Maciej Wcisło (Ph.D. student from JU), who provided their personal reflections on the notion of being a student, and emphasised the role of the students in the process of creating the 3rd Student Congress at the Jagiellonian University, thanking them 'for helping to create the University of tThe Future'. Thereafter, the students listened to the opening speech by Emily Palmer, Una Europa Secretary General, who presented the main activities of Una Europa in the last years, the aspect of students’ participation in them, and the opportunities such activities provide for the students and their development within the alliance.
Eventually, what made this opening day particularly special, was the launching of the Una For Ukraine, a new campaign uniting the Una Europa community in support of Ukrainian refugees at Jagiellonian University by raising funds for emergency aid, and scholarships. Its origins and significance were explained by Małgorzata Grzelewska (JU Deputy Chancellor for General Affairs) and Roksolana Kharachko (JU student), emphasising the key purposes of the campaign, and the main idea of 'students for students' aid, standing behind the project.
The second day of the Una Europa Student Congress was completely dedicated to the Future UniLab workshops, during which students were to examine the concept of the University of the Future in-depth. The first part began with the opening speeches by the Dean of Jagiellonian University’s Faculty of International and Political Studies, Prof. Paweł Laidler, and Marco Reyes-Bernal, both of them emphasising the significance of 'student community, unity, cooperation' and 'common sense of identity'. After opening words, the students were introduced to more details regarding the operation, structure, and goals of Future Unilab, with a special focus on four pre-selected fundamental problems of the Future UniLab, which were to be explored by the students during focus group workshops:
- Values: What is the essence of the European University of the Future?
- Sustainability: How can universities become future-proof and resilient in an ever more rapidly changing world?
- Integration: How to integrate the universities with their ecosystem - locally, nationally, and internationally?
- Instruments: How should the digital dimension of the university of the future be conceived?
Moreover, the participants listened to the Master Conference by Dr Marta Shaw (JU LTF Divisions of Operations, Projects, and Connect), which through reflection on the 'concept of truth' and different contemporary crises (social, spiritual, environmental) encouraged the student to apply a new different way of thinking, during their collaborative effort on creating the University of the Future.
Afterward, students were divided into eight focus groups, with each of the groups focusing on solving 1 out of 4 introduced Future UniLab fundamental problems (Values, Sustainability, Integration, Instruments), with the help of the JU Facilitators. It was conducted through group brainstorming and creative problem-solving tools, which allowed the students to use creative, integrating group tasks such as role-play, Oxford debate, or LEGO brick building, as a starting point for further discussion on the idea of the University of the Future. Therefore, this process was unquestionably a core part of the second day of the Student Congress as it challenged participants to collaboratively develop innovative, future-proof solutions to daily obstacles of academic life. Moreover, it provided a unique opportunity for participants to reflect on the idea of the University of the Future in a European, transdisciplinary, inter-university environment.
After successful brainstorming and group work, each of the focus groups presented their final reflections on the Future UniLab problems and the potential solutions they came up with. Each of the focus groups managed to effectively use the problem-solving tool they were assigned to provide specific, yet innovative solutions to foster Una Europa’s vision of the University of the Future. After the presentations, the participants were acquainted with the Language Tandem by Febe Piccinin. Eventually, the academic session ended with closing remarks by Roksolana Kharachko, who summarised the solutions of each of the 8 focus groups to the Future UniLab problems, with a special focus on the role of students’ integration, and multidimensional cooperation in this process.
The 3rd and the last day of the Student Congress was the capstone of the students’ work on 'bringing the University of the Future One Step Closer'. It began with the opening by Natalia Szymańska (JU 1st Board Representative), who briefly summarised, the core, 2nd day of the Congress and reflected on the way participants managed to overcome challenges assigned to each of the focus groups by 'integration, cooperation, and finding solutions from different perspectives'. Afterward, the event of Una Connect took place, during which students were provided with the opportunity to further strengthen their sense of belonging to Una Europa’s alliance and gave them a chance for networking through integrating and creative activities, such as the Speed Meeting Icebreaker. Thereafter, the participants were able to listen but also participate as an audience in the Student Talk, with 4 panelists, exploring the question of 'What is the essence of the University Of The Future?'. The aforementioned activity allowed the students to further engage and broaden the horizon of the concept of the University of the Future, as well as give room to the panelists with 4 different, yet complementary academic backgrounds to share their opinions and get a conversation started regarding the core values and raison d’être. During the Student Talk, panelists and the audience discussed the following crucial questions, relating to the concept of the University of the Future:
- What does really mean to belong in the context of the University of the Future?
- What’s the importance of the Local Task Force in bringing this vision 'one step closer'?
- What is the purpose of belonging and why should a student feel that they belong to a certain group? Why is it important for students to have this feeling of belonging?
- How the universities would prepare and how should a University of the Future adapt to face climate catastrophe?
- How can we ensure that we create a space where people in universities not only learn but create the future?
- And how to avoid universities creating access and a class divide with those who do not want to join a university space?
Thereafter, the students listened to the presentation by Dr Maciej Grodzicki (Assistant Professor from JU Department of Finance and International Economics) regarding the study program of Micro-Credential in Sustainability and opportunities connected with it, which was launched and opened to students from Una Europa partner universities on 7th October 2022. Afterward, came the time for one of the final events, which was the Presentation Brochure by Lovina Okonkwo. The presentation began with a quiz about Una Europa, which was a starting point to elaborate on Una Europa Student Brochures and 4 problems associated with the visibility of Una Europa’s alliance at partner campuses and how to solve them. Therefore, the above presentation gave students a substantial opportunity to reflect on the issue of how can they get involved as a student on a daily basis, to significantly contribute to the actions of Una Europa’s alliance.
The closing speech was delivered by Magdalena Herman (one of the JU students, and panelists during the Student Talk), who reminded the participants that we as a community of students need to 'be united, change things by discussing'. As members of Una Europa’s alliance, we 'need to engage people to join us, develop our universities, and help to create the University of the Future, which one day this University will be a perfect place for the students'.
To conclude the three days of thought-provoking activities, it was time for the Student Board representatives of each university to gather in the walls of the historic Collegium Maius to discuss the inner workings of the Una Europa alliance. Provoked by the conclusion of the cadencies inside the Student Board, it was also time to vote for candidates, who expressed their interest to hold significant roles inside of it. From this meeting behind closed doors, a new beginning for the alliance and its mission arose.
Text: Alicja Komorniczak