The Global Student Forum is the umbrella organisation of the world’s major representative student federations. It is the only independent, democratic and representative student governance structure dedicated to promoting the rights and perspectives of student organisations and movements on the global level. It has emerged as the main students’ representation organisation in the world. In the last three years, it has been working towards increasing student representation in decision-making bodies. In particular, it has been striving to highlight its influence in promoting the Thematic Action Tracks Global Student Consultation in the process leading up to the UN Transforming Education Summit (TES) in September 2022.
The Global Student Forum strengthens and amplifies the voice of students’ organisations and movements on a global level by advocacy and lobbying on behalf of its membership. With a strong emphasis on formal and informal international decision-making spaces, it combats practices of tokenism and cherry-picking to ensure fair and legitimate representation for students on the global level. Informed by the first-hand experience of its constituency, it provides space for genuine dialogue with the overarching aim of influencing policy outcomes.
In the process leading up to the UN Transforming Education Summit (TES) in September 2022, the Global Student Forum organised a student-led event to consult the global student movement on the five thematic tracks of the event. The aim was to gather a broad and democratically representative contribution to the joint effort to mobilise political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity in order to transform education.
The Thematic Action Tracks Global Student Consultation sought to collect feedback from national and local student union delegations, allowing them to present these democratic recommendations to decision-making bodies. The consultation was performed on a regional basis to allow for better collection of feedback from grassroots representatives. The Global Student Consultation consisted of a short plenary on the UN Transforming Education Summit and breakout rooms for the five Thematic Tracks consultation.
The event saw student union delegations from more than 60 countries participate, and was joined by Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Professor Leonardo Garnier. The Consultation raised awareness of the TES and called attention to its purpose, focus and function. It also allowed the student constituency to provide high-level recommendations on inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools; learning and skills for life, work, and sustainable development; teachers, teaching and the teaching profession; digital learning and transformation and financing of education.
The execution of the Consultation was guided by the following factors:
Student organisations are vital stakeholders in education and exist in all regions of the world. They offer diverse and multidimensional experiences of education within their local and regional context.
Student unions are active in shaping educational policy and governance that relate to those areas requiring greater attention, as identified by the thematic tracks.
Consequently, the Global Student Forum considered that it was essential to collect feedback from this stakeholder group. This would ensure the responsiveness of the summit’s outcomes and an informed student declaration addressing the decision makers at the summit.
An outcome document was drafted and, following another written consultation, involving all delegations present in the meeting, was adopted by the Global Student Forum Steering Committee as the formal recommendation of the international student movement to the Transforming Education Summit Secretariat. It would also act as a reference for student union advocacy on the national, regional and global level.
As a result, the action of the Global Student Forum in taking elected student representatives to discuss recommendations to be presented at the Transforming Education Summit marked a turning point against tokenism for the meaningful participation of student unions in the UN’s education framework. The international student movement was well represented at the summit, as by a regionally diverse delegation of elected student leaders, who hosted official sessions and took part in a range of panels on topics such as educational quality and tax reforms. The Global Student Forum saw this event as a crucial step in normalising democratic student representatives as legitimate and invaluable stakeholders in the future of education.
Students, as the by far largest group within the educational community, through the Global Student Forum have for the first time in decades been able to create a platform to democratically represent their voice in the multilevel education governance systems that range from the institutional all the way to the global level. The work of the Global Student Forum seeks to strengthen and connect the member organisations and support them in their effort to empower and lobby for students in vastly different circumstances. At the same time, it looks to influence those global for a that for far too long have lacked students as stakeholders.
The Global Student Forum was founded in 2020 by the All-Africa Students Union (AASU), the Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA), the European Students’ Union (ESU), the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU), the Organización Continental Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Estudiantes (OCLAE) along with other national student organisations and movements. Through its membership, it currently represents 202 student unions from 120 countries.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, student organisations and movements had urgently needed an effective mechanism for global cooperation and solidarity. The pandemic has, in a single event, distilled the shortcomings of our leaders and laid bare – with tragic consequences – the injustices within our societies. This crisis means we cannot wait any longer. Democratic governments have been criticised for perceived complacency and incompetence; authoritarian leaders – as well as those democratic governments with an increasingly authoritarian disposition – are exploiting the crisis to consolidate their power and crush dissent. Independent, democratic student structures have been under particular attack around the world.
We live in an age where democracy has become a radical principle. The spread of democratic governments over the past century is a contingent, and ultimately fragile, reality. As a result, the responsiveness and accountability of governments, and their capacity to guarantee the rights of the population, are being undermined. Our generation is watching as governments fail on the historic challenges of climate change, civil rights, disinformation, economic inequality, mass migration and public health. This has prompted a crisis of faith in democracy, one which is only deepening. The risk this poses is profound, namely that the younger generation will become sceptical towards the desirability of democratic government and sympathetic to authoritarian paths of development. We are acting urgently, through our unions, organisations and movements, to address that challenge and build a fair and democratic future.
We believe that independent and democratic structures for student organising are key to democratic development. We are from movements with distinguished histories; we have been on the front lines of the struggles for education, civil rights, gender equality, peace and democracy and we are fighting again. Our heritage provides us with inspiration and offers a constant reminder that history progresses as the result of radical ideas. We are proud that our movements are democratic, independent and representative. What we are doing is the long, collective and difficult groundwork that is the precondition and the catalyst for social change.
Today, the forces which shape our societies transcend borders and the principle of solidarity demands renewed urgency. Over the past year, we have been r-building political and technical relationships with regional and national student federations around the world. In so doing, we have realised that we have much to learn from each other and much to build together. Following extensive consultations, the organisation that has emerged is the Global Student Forum (GSF), serving and strengthening independent, democratic and representative student organisations, unions and movements around the world.