Sten Ärm, Chairman of TalTech Student Body, writes about why organized student movement is necessary and how it has evolved over 100 years.
Throughout the times, TalTech alumni have been the ones helping build Estonia’s future, boosting the economy and the social system and creating innovation in both Estonia and abroad. Their role in the society and in developing the university has been priceless. However, their opinion while they are still students has been somewhat underestimated.
On 1 October 2020, TalTech’s student body will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It is a remarkable date because a hundred years ago to the day, the first Student Body was established at the university. Merely two years after the foundation of the university, the students realised an active student representative body was needed for the better functioning of the university, to contribute to the development of the university and higher education as a whole.
Today, student engagement at TalTech is at a pretty good level. A representative of the students is welcome at the rector’s office meetings, at least a fifth of the members of the TalTech Senate are made up of students, and different university units actively gather input from student representatives. Tallinn University of Technology has realised there is great value in the opinions and ideas of the students and keeps taking longer steps towards making the university and its students significant and strong cooperation partners for each other. Both in planning the development of the university and in improving the quality of studies. Other universities are also placing ever more importance on the active engagement of their students.
However, it is extremely important here to make sure the engagement is not superficial. It is very easy to invite students to meetings only to show that there has been engagement. Situations where the ideas and thoughts of students go in one ear and out the other and attention is paid only when experienced employees take the floor are easy to happen. But that is only de jure engagement, much worse than no engagement at all. Recent experience has shown that even though the Ministry of Education and Research has been collaborating with student representatives and listened to their opinions, the students in their steel grey and cherry red caps have still had to express their ideas in front of the Riigikogu. Be it the request to peg research and development funding to 1% of Estonia’s GDP, or any other subject.
I believe that with its hundred years of experience, the student body at TalTech has been successful and finally has enough voice to take some important decisions. We will continue making efforts to be partners of equal value in all fields of life in the following hundred years to come.
Happy 100th Anniversary to TalTech’s student body and its former members!