A certain veteran of the student movement would always tell me that students are the social group that frightens society the most. They are unemployed, so you cannot fire them; you cannot expel them from universities nor deny them scholarships as that would bring an even bigger storm of disapproval; you can end up in court if you fail to hear their opinions out. Simply put, students are unpredictable energetic idealists who, if they feel passionate and dedicated enough, are ready to move mountains or completely destroy any governmental decision that harms the student body. In my experience, such students most often become a part of a student movement and form student organisations. In the case of KTU, it is the UNITed programme, currently consisting of 837 student members – a ninth of the whole KTU student community.
And yet, is the KTU student movement moving anywhere? At the moment it is a chaotic, unpredictable and uncontrollable unit, with all of the belonging organisations working within their own fields of activity and fighting for their own interests. Every single project being prepared is based on the interests of a particular organisation or its target group or some proposal that each organisation deems a valuable addition for the students. There are 23 organisations and all of them are following the direction they set for themselves. The student movement has no direction; it is, ironically, moving nowhere, and is instead dragged to all sides, convulsing.
It would seem logical. The organisations are all very different from one another and have distinct functions. They do not look like they would have much in common, so there is no need to unite and work towards a shared goal, right? I can find many arguments against this idea.
First of all, KTU Students’ Association is formed of 9 organisations, each with their own culture, atmosphere, goals, wishes and work methods. They are all united under the Central Bureau that decides the direction they all should follow and coordinates their activities. And it is only because of this reason that KTU SA is strong: each of the 9 organisations has its representatives in the governing bodies of the faculties and the university. Hypothetically speaking, our power is immeasurable when we rally all our forces.
Moreover, a fragmented student movement means that on their own, organisations do not have as many resources as they could have, and will probably never think to ask a fellow organisation for help. Such individualism sometimes fosters the “Us Against Them” mentality, which is why, instead of student solidarity, we are left with organisations being distant towards one another. Organisations seem to just scowl at one another’s activities, end up having their events take place simultaneously. In such a situation it is naive to expect any kind of cooperation.
The third argument would be that we can forget about KTU making a notable contribution in the domain of student self-expression opportunities if we have organisations that stand out neither size nor cooperation-wise. The scope of activities is smaller, the management and organisational culture are ineffective or underdeveloped and, worst of all, there is no endgame. We all came together, had fun, launched a few short-term projects, yet left nothing but the inventory for the future generations. It is not exactly bad, but it is why student movement is not as active as it could be.
I should say that it is not the goal of this text to poke the holes in or criticise the work of certain institutions. No – I am actually writing this because on August 29th I witnessed something special. It is the day of the Student’s Activities Fair: each organisation is placing down their inventory and setting up their tables, there are 15 minutes left before the start of the event, everyone looks slightly stressed and super hyped. Students will start gathering soon, and…Suddenly it starts to rain. The organisers’ team took 2 hours to set the whole fair up. It took 4 minutes to move it all inside during the rain, and it was done by all the participating organisations working together. This is where I saw the potential that the UNITed programme has, and what it could become.
And it is now that I would like to offer an alternative to the existing system. I did not make this up – I saw it already functioning, and doing so perfectly.
Did you know that the Students’ Association of the University of Aveiro curates not only the activities of student organisations but also has hired two students who are in charge of the activities of all the sports teams in the university? It is going very well for them: they usually place second in Portugal (even though the president of their students’ association complained that in Europe they always lose to such tall players like, for example, Lithuanians). Moreover, have you ever visited Norway and perhaps got to be acquainted with the Students’ Association of the University of Stavanger? This association provides all the means and opportunities for students to create their own new organisations, clubs and gatherings as small as an initiative of three like-minded people if they so wish.
What I’m trying to say with these examples is that the student movement should not, in any way, be administered, coordinated or managed by the university. Of course, it can contribute with support and resources, but the activities itself should be planned and managed by the students. However, do students have the necessary competences to manage such a massive number of members and organisations by themselves? Well, the Students’ Union of the University of Nottingham says yes. They have a democratically elected Activities Officer who manages and curates more than 200 student organisations. Of course, what I’m talking about here are examples from abroad. Perhaps we are not yet ready for such responsibilities, and perhaps the higher education system in Lithuania is not yet ready for such student independency. And yet, the Coordinator of Programs, Clubs and Projects of the VU Students’ Representation Central Bureau says hello.
In my humble opinion, the student movement should be directed towards a shared goal, the organisations should share their resources and cooperate instead of working for their own personal gain. However, the market itself, at the moment, is large, Kaunas is full of culture and various activities, and it is time for us, as the student movement of KTU, to either offer something unique and big or remain unnoticed in the vast ocean of choices.
And if there is ever a concern about what this shared goal should be, I think I have some ideas for an answer. Let’s ask ourselves: “What do we want KTU to be like a year later? Two years later? Five years later?”. Because the university belongs to us – the students.
In my opinion, UNITed, as of now, is just a bold marketing statement and, even though there are sometimes bolts of student unity striking the scene, there are still ways to go until we get a truly massive storm. But is it possible? Yes, yes it is. Is it a perspective of a far-off future? Absolutely not. When will the KTU student movement move towards the desired unity? KTU SA is already taking the first steps towards it so, hopefully, soon.