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20th Feb 2017

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Students: 'Don't let Belarus join EU education area'

  • Despite the crackdown on students, some support Belarussian accession to the higher education zone (Photo: Leonid Varlamov | mmet.livejournal.com)

European students have warned that Belarus should not be allowed to join the EU-led higher education zone due to the ongoing repression of students and academics.

The European Students’ Union issued an appeal on Wednesday (14 December) to European states to block the country’s accession to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), a regional agreement aiming to deliver greater transferability of qualifications and co-operation between universities and colleges.

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“Even though Belarus might fulfil formal criteria to join the EHEA, it should not become part of it as there is no such thing as academic freedom in Belarus,” said Allan Pall, the chairman of the student group.

Last December, some 600 Belarusian activists, mainly young people and students, were arrested and put on trial while 20 students were expelled from their university following protests against the election of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko.

“What we saw last year December with the violent repression of demonstrators, says it all: Belarus is not democratic enough yet to be integrated,” Pall told EUobserver. “[This] process is not only about harmonising European higher education, it is above all about common academic and democratic values."

The following month, following a student letter-writing campaign, the Norwegian Ministry of Education initiated a joint statement with ten other European countries expressing their concern about the violation of academic freedom in Belarus. Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK all denounced the repression. Poland has since come out against the Belarussian adhesion.

The current balance of votes in the 47-state regional association is unclear ahead of a decision at a ministerial meeting that will take place in Bucharest in April next year.

However, a number of EU states including Denmark, which was a signatory to the Norwegian letter and will hold the EU’s six-month rotating presidency from January, back Minsk’s adhesion, arguing that increased educational links can encourage democratic debate in the country.

It is understood that both Hungary and Slovakia back Minsk joining, along with all six countries in the EU's Eastern Partnership programme, apart from Azerbaijan.

From Greenland to Russia, Belarus is the only country in Europe and central Asia apart from Kyrgystan that is not in the education zone. The disputed territories of Northern Cyprus and Kosovo are also excluded.

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