Student blog written by: Alma Ágústsdóttir, Aurora Student Council President
When the Aurora Student Council, comprised of student representatives from all Aurora universities, was originally formed in the early days of the Aurora Network, Aurora immediately identified student engagement as one of its key priorities. Through the years, cross-institutional student cooperation has grown, deepened and morphed through several small and large-scale changes, such as the creation of the Aurora Alliance. Still, student engagement remains at the very core of Aurora’s identity.
Throughout the years, the Student Council has increased the number and variety of opportunities that students are offered regarding engagement within Aurora. We have hosted open workshops and participated in projects such as Design Thinking jams and seminars (which are promoted on social media and mass emails), courses at other Aurora universities where the credits gained count towards your degree at your home university, and cooperative projects spanning an entire academic year, such as the Student Schemes. In addition to all that, the Aurora Student Council is deeply ingrained into Aurora’s governance structure and works continuously on cooperative projects near and dear to students’ hearts. This last semester was no exception and was, indeed, eventful, to say the least. It is, therefore, appropriate and worthwhile to round up the memorable moments of student engagement that have occurred over this past academic year.
At the start of the Autumn semester of 2022, the Aurora Student Schemes project began, and a call was opened for students who wanted to get involved in Aurora’s work as either Ambassadors or Champions. In total, we’ve received over 100 applications from students across Aurora universities and, therefore, have the highest number of engaged students to date. These students have varied levels of engagement but can, for example, organise local Aurora events, participate in Work Packages and Task Teams, and work collaboratively with students from other Aurora universities.
When discussing the work that has taken place during this academic year, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bid writing that has been one of Aurora’s largest projects in the past months. This was a bid for continued funding from Erasmus+ under the European Universities initiative that was the impetus for the creation of the Aurora Alliance, and students took part in that work from its beginning.
The work began last summer, and as the President of the Aurora Student Council, I had a seat on the so-called Editorial Committee that met regularly and laid the groundwork for the new application.
In September, Institutional Coordinators from all 10 Aurora universities gathered at Copenhagen Business School and spent two days discussing and forming Aurora’s project priorities for the next four years. Two student representatives took part in that work, the President and Vice President of the Aurora Student Council, Alma Ágústsdóttir from the University of Iceland and Hanus Patera from Palacký University in Olomouc.
We worked continuously on the bid proposal after that, but the next large-scale student project wasn’t until November when the Student Council met at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. This was the first opportunity that the Aurora Student Council had to meet in person in the 2022-23 academic year, and we spent two days discussing and collecting areas of priority and importance to students, which were then presented to the Vice Rectors of Education from all the Aurora universities.
One of the main priorities the students agreed upon was that each university would work towards guaranteeing a paid student position at the local level. This is due to the workload of those students who take on the most responsibility for Aurora exceeding what can be expected of an unpaid volunteer. Such a position would also increase equality, diversity, and inclusion within Aurora since some students’ economic situation makes them unable to take on volunteer work alongside their studies, regardless of their interest in the work. The new position of Student Coordinator would ensure that each university has a fully engaged student responsible for lending support to other students who do work on behalf of Aurora, who would also work on reaching the general student population at an institutional level, as well as sit on the Student Council.
This endeavour was successful, and the position of Student Coordinator was included in the new application for continued funding.
In November, Aurora also held a Biannual virtual conference hosted by Universität Duisburg-Essen. There, the Student Council organised a World Café event on mental health (which is the Council’s emphasis for this academic year) titled Mental Health: Sharing Best Practices. Students, professors and staff of Aurora universities gathered to identify which mental health support efforts were successful, where support is lacking and how we can improve. In addition, this event enabled people to learn from each other cross-institutionally. At the World Café’s conclusion, the Student Council gathered and compiled the results and will use this input to continue our work in the area of increased mental health support within Aurora universities.
In December, Palacký University Olomouc in the Czech Republic hosted a conference titled European Universities – Future of Higher Education Forum, where several alliances gathered to discuss the future of European universities. As the Aurora Student Council president, I spoke on student participation within governance and discussed how we might fully employ students’ power.
The rectors of all 10 Aurora universities also gathered in Amsterdam in December to discuss and provide their approval, on behalf of their institutions, of all aspects included in Aurora’s new bid. As the Student Council President, I sat at that meeting, representing all students within Aurora member universities.
Since then, the planning of Aurora’s work for the next four years has continued and culminated in the submission of the application on January 30th. Having been a part of that work since its beginning, I feel confident in saying that the future of Aurora is bright!