YUFE: Young Universities for the Future of Europe

European identity – still vague but already real

Freshly elected as vice-president of the YUFE student forum, FASoS student Manisha Bieber tries to do her part to create a European identity that fits her and young people like her, on whom national labels sit awkwardly.

“I refer to myself as half-Indian, half-German,” says Manisha Bieber, “but before too long, I want it to be half-Indian, half-European.” She hopes that the European project will one day be able to provide that sense of identity. A few weeks ago, the second-year European Studies undergraduate was elected vice-president of the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) Student Forum.

India and Europe: impractically, thrillingly heterogeneous

Manisha was educated in India, in Kendriya Vidyalaya, a network of schools under the central government for the children of military and government personnel who are relocated every few years.. “You get a real feeling of belonging to this greater identity, but at the same time you experience the regional differences.” According to her, India is a lot like the EU: it has 28 states, many different official languages, and many different identities, sometimes uneasily united. 

“It made me conscious of certain social problems: gender, caste, class, religion and so on.” These issues inspired Manisha to study law, which she did for three years at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany. “I wanted to approach things from a broader perspective, so I decided to come to Maastricht. European Studies covered everything I wanted, including European law.”

The opportunity to study in English certainly was a draw. Manisha had grown up speaking four languages and her education was in English. Only after relocating to Germany did she start to study German seriously. “Apart from the interdisciplinary approach – and the greater freedom and skill-set that comes with that – I was also attracted by the network my study programme has to European institutions.”

Communicating YUFE’s benefits to students

If you’re a UM student and don’t feel like taking up any of those opportunities, that’s perfectly fine of course. If you didn’t know about any of those opportunities, that would be a shame. “I think across all universities, we could communicate the benefits even better, be clearer, reach more people,” says Manisha, who found out about YUFE through the narrow casting screens at FASoS.

Since one of YUFE’s ambitions is to be student-centred, there are many opportunities for co-creation, which Manisha has embraced enthusiastically. She joined the YUFE Student Forum, made up of three student representatives from each of the nine universities. She collected and gave feedback to the coordinators of the student journey, and saw many of her suggestions realised. “I also created a messaging group right away to create more of a sense of community – the informal part of studying together.”

Her proactive approach and leadership credentials haven’t gone unnoticed and Manisha was elected vice-president of the Student Forum. As such, she got to explain YUFE’s benefits to more than 200 prospective students during the open days and also act as a liaison for current students who are encountering problems or have ideas for improving the student experience. “Thanks to input from students, the virtual campus has improved and become more user-friendly already.”

Already a reality

What might sound like some policymakers’ vague vision is already quotidian reality to her and many of her friends. “From Mainz, where I am now, Paris is closer than Berlin. I live in Belgium, I study in the Netherlands; my friends are from all across Europe. Talking to colleagues in the YUFE Student Forum, you can see how different approaches are but at the same time, you also glimpse the outline of a unifying identity – one we can all embrace.”

On a much more pragmatic note though, Manisha is focusing on her election pledge to promote YUFE and to communicate the possibilities it offers to students. “You have so much to gain and nothing to lose – seize that opportunity!”

Text: Florian Raith

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