Student Perspectives: Chamalie Gunawaradane (UL)

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

I think co-creation is about how you create solutions with all the parties included. It’s how you define the problem as well as the solutions, through an all-party inclusive approach. This has to happen from the beginning, not with experts first deciding what the problem is and defining it, then presenting ideas about it.

I believe that case-studies give us the experiences of ‘experts by experience’. Individuals know about these stories, and this is a good starting place for us to understand the exclusive and inclusive practices in universities. It’s a good start because it gives a lot of space to understand the culture of the universities – and these case-studies need to include the stories of individual students as well.

Are there aspects of life at university that you think are not inclusive? How would you like to improve them?

For me, being an international student from a non-EU country, when you say that European universities should be open, my question is ‘To whom?’ To those who are in the EU, or to everyone?

I got the opportunity to do a PhD here because the faculty has a connection with my faculty in Sri Lanka. I come from a tiny island to this small country in Europe. Bureaucracy-wise, my faculty handles PhD students by itself: they recruit the students, and then they have their own rules about how to handle them.

My issue is that since I am detached from the whole university, I have to depend on the limited resources of the faculty. My faculty doesn’t know about visa issues, or procedures for third-country nationals. For the first four months I couldn’t focus on my PhD studies because I had to struggle with getting a visa extension, getting information from the faculty, from the university, from the International Office... It was really hard for me.

If I had the agency to do so, I would change that: I wouldn’t take away the bureaucratic independence of faculties, but create a bridge. You need to engage with the University of Ljubljana as an overall institution when you get foreign students. I’m the only Sri Lankan student in the university, and I don’t know any other Sri Lankan people in Slovenia. So this is really hard for an individual student. The faculty and the whole university should have a plan, and a policy, to include people from non-European backgrounds without creating bureaucratic and technical issues.

Another issue I wanted to highlight: when I arrived at the University of Ljubljana and registered as an international student, I was promised that things would be delivered in English but all the notices come to me in Slovene. I have to use Google Translate, which is difficult and time-consuming. I still do it to get the information I need, but still, Ajda’s point is right: inclusion for whom and with whom?

Whatever the language is, it’s good that I’m getting the notices about relevant events, careers, etc. All students at all levels get this kind of information by email, and I’m happy about that. It’s something I didn’t see in my university back in Sri Lanka.