Student Perspectives: Irene García Rojas (UPF)

How should students be involved as co-creators in Higher Education?

It happens a lot in universities that there is a separation between the institution and the members of the university. Breaking these barriers is fundamental, in order to make everything work. It’s what Victor was saying: the people living university ‘in the first person’ are the ones that can really say what’s going wrong. The point of view of the institution is more cold and less direct.

Also, co-creation has to go forward, and it has to be something more than just listening. It’s about feeling like you are being listened to, your point of view is valuable, and it can change something. It’s important to create project groups, to make students participate in decisions and the process of making changes, not just having them expressing what they think.

For me, sometimes it’s a problem with communication with the students. Sometimes the institutional process of changing things is a lot slower than we would like. Sometimes in this process, we receive a negative response – we want to change something and it’s not possible – but we don’t get an explanation. Sometimes it’s assumed that students will not understand or agree with this, or with the processes. So there’s a lack of communication which increases this prejudice and lack of confidence in the institution.

Are there aspects of life at university that you think are not inclusive?

It doesn’t make sense that throughout a whole course you don’t talk about women, then on a specific day you do. I have had so many classes that talk about how they are ‘focusing on gender’, but they are not really including it in the class. If I study the history of Europe, they do a specific class about women in history, but for me this is not inclusion. It’s like ‘Okay, now you’re talking about women’. It’s not included in a proper way.

Are there any inclusive practices at your university that you would like to highlight?

We want to highlight some new practices in UPF to do with inclusive toilets and menstrual equity, which began very recently: you can now find unisex toilets in every building, as well as dispensers of free menstrual pads and tampons. The Unitat d'Igualtat explains that 22% of women in Europe don’t have adequate access to menstrual material. So we think the menstrual equity project is very important, and a great step for a public university. It’s a very new project so we would love to mention it here.

These initiatives show something important: there are resources for what we need, and if you make it a priority you will find resources to make this happen. It’s a structural thing. Yes it’s expensive, but if the university wants to pay for this, they will find the money. With the menstrual equity project, people are using the dispensers responsibly, they don’t go and take twenty pads – so it’s sustainable, and not wasteful.

What new or improved practices would you like to see?

As Victor said, there are some good opportunities that support career development, but I would like to see more of these opportunities for humanities students like me. A lot of degree programmes enable students to do internships with companies, but in humanities we don’t have this option: it would be a good idea to implement more of this kind of thing in courses, so everyone has some credits that are specific to learning about the labour market.