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Student rights are those rights, such as civil, constitutional, contractual and consumer rights, which regulate student rights and freedoms and allow students to make use of their educational investment. These include such things as the right to free speech and association, to due process, equality, autonomy, safety and privacy, and accountability in contracts and advertising, which regulate the treatment of students by teachers and administrators. There is very little scholarship about student rights throughout the world. In general most countries have some kind of student rights (or rights that apply in the educational setting) enshrined in their laws and proceduralized by their court precedents. Some countries, like Romania, in the European Union, have comprehensive student bills of rights, which outline both rights and how they are to be proceduralized. Most countries, however, like the United States and Canada, do not have a cohesive bill of rights and students must use the courts to determine how rights precedents in one area apply in their own jurisdictions.
Canada, like the United States, has a number of laws and court precedents which regulate higher education and provide student rights. The Canadian Encyclopedia, which details issues of Canadian life and governance, states that in Canada "Basically two sorts of rights apply to students: substantive rights – the actual rights that students should enjoy – and procedural rights – methods by which students claim their rights. This article is concerned with students in public institutions, although those in private schools can claim rights under the common law and provincial education Acts."
Canada does not yet have a national student Bill of Rights or comparable document. If and when one is put in place in Canada it is likely that this document will be called a Charter of Student Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is equivalent to the National Bill of Rights in the United States. The Canadian national student union or government is the Canadian Federation of Students and it has not put forth any such bill.
In the AlBaho Case, a French criminal court found three senior academics at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ICPSE) guilty of email espionage. This was the first incident where academic staff were found guilty of a criminal act as a result of a complaint made by a student – and where those staff members had the full support of their institution.
Romania is the country with the greatest student rights legislation currently in place. In 2011 the National Alliance of Student Organizations in Romania, which is also part of the European Student Union, worked with the Romanian National Government to bring into law the Romanian National Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities. This document provides Romanian students with roughly a hundred theoretical and procedural rights necessary to ensure theoretical rights are fulfilled. This document includes the following rights:
Students in both Europe and North America began calling for the expansion of civil rights and student rights during the Vietnam War era. They established legal rights by forming student unions and lobbying for institutional policies (thus, changing the cultural treatment of students), lobbying for legislative change on state and national levels and circulating petitions for the creation of national student rights bills. In America, for instance, students won the right to retain their civil rights in institutions of higher education. In Europe, this movement has been explosive. Students have banded together and formed unions in individual institutions, at the state and national levels and eventually at the continental level as the European Student Union. They have been instrumental in lobbying for rights in individual countries and in the EU in general. In 2011, for instance, Romania put forth an extensive national student bill of rights providing Romanian students with a hundred rights assembled in a clear and easy to access document. Europe has also set forth legislation stipulating the rights of EU students studying in other EU countries.
European students have used the tactics established during the global labour movement of the eighteen and nineteen hundreds to gain labour or work place standards. They have unionized, stated their demands both verbally and in writing (sometimes in the form of a proposed student bill of rights), publicized their message and gone on strike. During the labor movement, workers in the United States, for example, won the right to a 40-hour work week, to a minimum wage, to equal pay for equal work, to be paid on time, to contract rights, for safety standards, a complaint filing process etc. Students have, likewise, demanded that these regulations as well as civil, constitutional, contract and consumer rights, which regulate other industries, be applied to higher education.
The European student movement and the United States movement differ in a number of ways. These differences may be a factor in determining why European Students have been more successful in obtaining legally recognized student rights, from the right to access free education to the right to move and study freely from one EU country to the next, to the right to exercise their national legal rights in institutions of higher education.
The European Student Union ESU mandate requires the ESU to determine the demands of students and to convey them to legislators. The United States Student Association USSA also has a mandate to amplify the student voice in legal decision making but it does not stipulate how it will determine the student voice or ensure that it is representative of the students themselves. The ESU focuses on gathering input from students across the nation, creates a student bill of rights enabling students to critique it, proposes legislation to achieve these rights at both the state and continental level and then creates information resources so students know their rights. The USSA, determines its objectives through the USSA membership. USSA does not seem to conduct research across the nation or to state student objectives on their website so students can express a desire to add or delete from this list. If the USSA does conduct research they do not show this on their website, do not have a search function on the website and do not publish this information for students.
The ESU clearly states student demands through the nation and through the EU. They have compiled these demands into a student bill of rights, referred to as the 2008 Student Rights Charter. This document is not legally binding but it is a clear representation of all student demands. It helps students, institutions and governments understand what students are demanding and also helps student unions, in individual institutions, lobby for rights which help change the culture and treatment of students on a local level. The ESU has democratically created a proposed student bill of rights they want accepted in legislation at a national and continental level. These demands include: access to higher education, to student involvement in institutional governance, extracurricular support and curricular quality standards. Each right has been broken down into more detailed demands required to achieve these rights. While student associations in America are pushing for this, there has been no centralized effort through the national student association.
USSA Legislative initiatives have included student debt forgiveness, enabling undocumented immigrant students to attend college, allocating more governmental money toward institutions and students but again these objectives seem to be created by USSA members without national research on the student voice. There is no way to search their website to determine if they conduct research to gather input form students across the nation.
The European student movement and the United States movement also differ on a local institutional level. In Europe most institutional student organizations are referred to as student unions which suggests that they are engaged in lobbying for student rights. In America these are referred to as Student Governments or Student Associations and the focus is more on learning the democratic process. The problem is, however, that most student governments only have about 20-25% representation in the Academic Senate or institutional decision making body and far less experience in democratic processes than other institutional representatives. Student governments focus on teaching students how to be leaders and participate in democracy where as unions focus more on determining the student voice and achieving student rights through lobbying.
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