Student Perspectives: Omar Othman (VUB)

What new or improved practices would you like to see?

The media we have now just show us what they want us to listen to, and that’s one of the causes of racism. Consider the crisis of Ukraine, and racist discourse in the past about the effect of refugees on the labour market. The media is controlled by un-elected people, and it brainwashes us. But the university has its own ‘radio’, and could provide different broadcasts about racism and diversity, a different source for students to learn from. We learn from our parents and the street and the classroom, so this is a very important thing for EUTOPIA to consider.

I would make investments regarding developing self-awareness. We are all on a journey of increasing awareness in life: the more awareness people have, the more they will be able to make good decisions regarding the inclusion issues we’re discussing. So I would invest in media channels that talk about the importance of unity but also the importance of difference. A principle I would love to promote is that we were all created different so that we would have to get to know each other, because we have something to learn from each other. So I would invest in initiatives related to self-development and self-awareness.

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

Something weird I’ve noticed at VUB is that there is not much consideration for the issue of asylum-seekers. They are considered as international students when they pay their fees, so they have to pay €5000. But when they apply for financial support, the university tells them they do not match the requirements for international students.

There must be more attention to this, because asylum-seekers are not only asking to escape war, they also want to educate themselves – and not just at the refugee centre. As an asylum-seeker, you’re waiting to find out about your status, but these days you know that this could take a long time, and you don’t want to just wait in the refugee centre.

But the universities don’t have administrative laws regarding this category of student, and when you try to contact the refugee office about it they just give up and don’t support you – just because you don’t have the right status. Education is like healthcare, it’s vital. So this is a really important issue to consider.

Before becoming a resident in Belgium I had to put, I think, €11,000 in my bank account. The fixed fees that I have to pay should be reconsidered: if an international student wants to extend their studies for a year, they have to pay €1450. Even if you don’t have any courses these are fixed fees. It’s too much because if you live here in Europe, you have more money than those in the second or the third world, so why should I pay more money than someone who could get a scholarship from the Flemish government?