V4 collaboration to strenghten during pandemic

“The flow of information has sped up in the V4+ student union, since we had discussions not only on the given countries’ government measures, but also on issues related directly to higher education. This way we are preparing to handle such situations that have not occurred in a given member state yet but were present elsewhere.” – said Dávid Kosztrihán who gave a report on HÖOK’s (The National Union of Students in Hungary) foreign activities in connection with the pandemic situation.

Dávid Kosztrihán emphasized that the union aims to carry out all projects that have been started before, but at the same time, due to the pandemic, there are some changes in their operation as well. In this article we would like to review all these changes. 

In connection with the 30th anniversary of the foundation of HÖOK, its presidency set up 30 projects. What foreign activities do these 30 projects hold and what are the tasks HÖOK has regarding such activities in general?

Dávid Kosztrihán: We assist in the work of domestic and international policy bodies, we represent the interests of the Hungarian students in Hungary, in the European Students’ Union and in the V4+ Student Union as well. The projects that have been set up in HÖOK30 cover the foreign institutional system we are working in. It includes the ESU’s General Assembly, the legal formalisation of V4+, the assessment of international embeddedness and trainings on quality assurance. There are some tasks within these that have already been completed and some that are in progress.

The ESU is the union of the European countries’ students’ unions. Does it operate like HÖOK but on a European level?

Dávid Kosztrihán: The ESU, similar to HÖOK, is an umbrella organisation; It concludes 46 member organisations from 40 countries. HÖOK represents Hungarian students with two mandates in its decision-making. The ESU represents the interests of European students on an international level: in regards of education, it assists the work of the European Commission as well and takes part in the activities of the United Nations, since during UN’s meetings on education, the president of ESU speaks on a regular basis.

Its everyday operation is ensured by a working group of elected officers who represent given policies. They are also elected at the Board Meeting which meets twice a year for 4-5 days and encompasses 12-16 hours a day. Another significant event of the ESU is the Convention. Similar to HÖOK’s Executive Training (Vezetőképző), the representatives attend professional lectures as well as the meetings of the working group for three days.

What are the roles of the V4+ Student Union?

Dávid Kosztrihán: The V4+ Student Union is a fraction within the framework of the ESU. Besides the V4 countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary), Romania, Moldova and Belarus are also member states. Thanks to our historical background, these countries may be characterised by a sort of cohesion which we are trying to make a legal form of in order to provide a superior organisational framework for the Central and Eastern European cooperation. In addition to our past, we can say that our thoughts on higher education and on our own student organisations are nearly identical. The effort to obtain the harmony in our mentality comes naturally for everyone of us: we keep in touch, there is an ongoing exchange of information.

Why do you think the legal formalisation of V4+ is important?

Dávid Kosztrihán: The fact that we take the role of the organisation seriously in a sense that we try to regulate it in a very detailed manner suggests that the collaboration does have a future. The status of a legal entity allows to call for tenders and to strengthen the preservation of our union of representation in the ESU. We are trying to enact the principles that the following representatives can carry on. This project is one that I am proud of, not only in an organisational but in personal aspect as well: because of the quality of human contacts, it grew close to my heart. I would love to see the V4+ Student Union becoming a legal entity by the end of the year.

How do you work during the pandemic?

Dávid Kosztrihán: Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has negative effects on our organisation as well, since besides cancelling the ESU’s General Assembly in spring, we had to do the same with the V4+ meeting in Budapest too. We have a colleague who was stuck in Tehran because of the curfew, but fortunately has already arrived in the Czech Republic and is not suffering from the disease. Needless to say, the pandemic affects the general mood of the public as well, as everyone is forced to change their lives but the current situation has not changed the everyday operation of the V4+ Student Union, since its work is typically supported by communication through electronic devices. I am sure that one of the benefits of the crisis will be the recognition of teamwork’s significant role and we are already experiencing it.

What is your most determining experience with the V4+ union?

Dávid Kosztrihán: They played an important role in giving HÖOK the right to organise the ESU’s General Assembly. Our application was voted on after a long – and in some cases undeserving – process. There are some member organisations that blur the events of the domestic and foreign policies with the operation of independent student organisations and with political activism. The V4+ fraction provided key assistance in silencing these sounds. It was such an emotional turning point that it also strengthened our alliance. I am happy for being able to be there in person and to experience this support. It not only implies that the organisation is working well, but also that even in the light of external circumstances that are independent from us, the partner institutions trust HÖOK. We managed to present such a morally unquestionable argument on the purposes of HÖOK that even those who are not among our supporters could not do a thing. In HÖOK30 we committed ourselves to win the right to organise the ESU’s General Assembly and we already got it. The next step is to organise the event at the end of 2020.

Who do you think are exemplary members in the union?

Dávid Kosztrihán: Our useful alumni members, our “old bikers”, who have actively contributed to our work and remained great support till this day. Adam Gajek, a determining figure in Polish student representation, had two terms as an ESU president and mediated the many various interests within the organisation with enviable competence. He is truly devoted to our region, sees our operations’ flaws that he is critical about, moreover, he has some great ideas on how to correct them. I have to mention Michal Zima, former president of the Czech representation, Dániel Cséfalvy and Bálint Lovász from the Slovak student representation and from Hungary I’d like to name my predecessors: Dávid Kiss and Tamás Töhötöm Kaizinger.

How do you plan to stage the Hungarian higher education in the international space?

Dávid Kosztrihán: In certain fields of higher education – namely the agricultural sciences and the natural sciences – we compare the curriculum networks and education policies of other countries with ours so that we have a clear picture of the status of the Hungarian education’s sectors in an international setting. It is carried out by HÖOK’s professional associations. In regards of the two fields of science mentioned above, we are submitting a short study to the ministries in charge, which may help a lot in training development. To succeed in this field was also a goal set by our presidency.

While talking about the aims of HÖOK you mentioned the implementation of the quality assurance training. Its first part took place in February 2020. How would you evaluate it?

Dávid Kosztrihán: The training was the next milestone of the V4+ alliance. Supported by Slovak colleagues and the ESU, we are training 40 Hungarian and 40 Slovak representatives. With this number of participants, we cover higher education, helping its future and providing its quality assurance by adopting the EU standards more deeply, furthermore, doing it with active student engagement. I am proud of the fact that we are able to move forward this way and it is a gift of our history that we can carry out these international projects with our neighbours and friends.

How do you see your role in all this?

Dávid Kosztrihán: During my studies in the US, I considered myself and the image I show as an object that the place I come from will be associated with. I love my home, that is why I would like to give a good impression. We should not deny the presence of flaws, but principally, people are the ones responsible and obliged to shape their environment. I am certain that the way to achieve this is through ourselves. I believe that a country’s image is primarily shaped by its delegates. If the image is adequate, the attitude towards us will improve.