17 November 2022
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.

YUFE: the advantages of Europe for all

YUFE was an ideal fit for Manisha and her intercultural mind-set and ambitions. YUFE is an alliance of ten young research-intensive universities and two non-academic partners all across Europe. Coordinated by UM, this alliance has overwhelmingly won a European Commission call to take the next step in higher education.

“YUFE has enormous potential – if it manages to realise the plan to become an established European university it would go down in history.” Apart from the academic opportunities, Manisha liked the idea of experiencing how different countries across Europe approach teaching. She was also keen to see how they deal with cooperation and solving social and societal problems – in short, a deep dive into many of the issues discussed in European Studies.

Beyond the dizzying vision and ambition, it is striking how pragmatic and tangible the benefits of YUFE are. While students need to fulfil certain requirements to be awarded stars from the YUFE certificate system, the benefits are just there to enjoy for everyone with little to no administrative or financial effort. Every student in the YUFE network has access to the virtual campus, can follow lectures or courses at other member universities, can learn languages or go on a physical exchange that comes with opportunities to volunteer and properly immerse oneself into local culture and society.

YUFE has enormous potential – if it manages to realise the plan to become an established European university it would go down in history.
Manisha Bieber

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.”

Gently transgressive

In her role, Manisha will also represent the student perspective in strategy council meetings, where rectors of all YUFE universities make decisions. Paradoxically enough, because of all her extracurricular engagement, Manisha has, as of yet, not had the chance to enjoy that much of the student journey she is helping to improve.

On top of her office at YUFE, she is also a student representative at FASoS and she, along with some friends, has started her own association, COSA (Cosmopolitan Student Association) to facilitate interdisciplinary networking – not for career purposes, but to discuss ideas and different academic approaches to problems and projects. The attempt to transgress disciplinary boundaries in favour of a broader, richer identity chimes nicely with her vision for YUFE.

“To me Europe – practically and emotionally – has all the functions of a nation.” Manisha warns against taking a 19th-century ideal of the nation state as paradigm. To her, Europe offers a sufficiently flexible sense of identity – as well as hope for the future. “As tiny nations, we will mean less and less globally unless we come together, speak with one voice and become something greater than the sum of our parts.”

As tiny nations, we will mean less and less globally unless we come together, speak with one voice and become something greater than the sum of our parts.
Manisha Bieber

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!”

By: Florian Raith