45 Sunderland University students are to visit European Parliament

Members of the University of Sunderland Student's Union.
Members of the University of Sunderland Student’s Union.

Forty five Sunderland University students are leaving to visit the European Parliament in Brussels on Friday thanks to a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the North East Stephen Hughes.

The students will be visiting the European Parliament (EP) on February 18 where they will be welcomed by Mr Hughes.

They will receive a briefing about how the Parliament works, they will be able to ask questions and will attend a session in one of the EP chambers being able to observe how decisions are made.

The University Students’ Union (SU) secured this trip, receiving about £9000 from the European Union to cover travel, meal and accommodation costs for the students awarded a place.

The trip leader and organiser Jan Spalek said: “Hopefully, we will be able to speak to anyone who is around and take advantage of that. We’ve got the whole Tuesday reserved for us to be in the Parliament and go to the Parlamentarium – a visitors’ museum of the Parliament.

“Our students will be able to ask questions that relate to their programme studies. And also, very importantly, they will be able to attend the EP session. So will be siting in one of the chambers, being able to observe what’s happening and I hope this will trigger a little inspiration in some of our students, so that they can later think of becoming a local politician, or maybe national, even EU politician, who knows.

“Each MEP has a budget which they can use to fund other individuals, or groups of people, to visit the EP in Brussels or Strasbourg and find out how things are done there. So they can see, for example, how long it takes to amend a policy, see what the members of the EP do as it is up to us to vote and take position.

“Being aware of this opportunity I contacted a few MEPs who represent the region in the European Parliament and one of them – Stephen Hughes – got back to us saying he would be happy to fund 45 places and to book an appointment for us in the Parliament in Brussels.

“That’s why this is not like any other trip where you go sightseeing, this is special because you get access to places where not all ordinary people can visit.”

One of the selected students Kornelijus Paulavicius, 19, studying Tourism and Management, said: “I am very happy because I have always wanted to see Brussels and the European Parliament as I know a lot about it. It is also good for me because I am studying Tourism. So I look forward to it.

“I want to meet MEPs and just talk to them. I might talk to them about Ukraine, immigration or about students’ employment in EU countries as many students struggle to find job.”

The Students’ Union started an online application for a month for students to apply for this trip by submitting a 10 sentence-long statement, saying why they think they should be awarded a place.

There were more than 300 students applications submitted and the Union decided to use a user generated system to fairly pick 45 students out of about 300.

“The amount of the responses we received was overwhelming – it was beyond our expectation. More than 300 students expressed an interest in going and this exposed very difficult questions for us of who’s going and who is not.

“Because all of the statements were brilliant, what we decided to do was to put a fair number generated system so that we gave each person the same chance to go or not to go. We gave each application a number from one to 310-315; we arranged these numbers in a computer system and every time you pressed enter it generated a number, so we could stay away from possible bias and everybody had the same chance,” said Mr Spalek.

The forty five students, who are from different place from the region, the country, Europe as well as international students, have been picked from the Sunderland and London campus of the University, with 35 students going from the city’s and 10 from London’s.

All of the money received from the European Parliament to realise this trip is spent on students’ needs. Staff places are funded by the SU.

As the SU decided to extend the trip from one night in Brussels to four full days, an extra £50 was required to cover some additional costs, which has not been covered by the EU – such as lunch dinner, breakfast, visa costs etc.

“Because the EP is in Brussels, it will be a shame not to see other things so we decided to extend the trip and rather than seeing only the EP, we will be going to other places as well. We extended the trip to four full days – Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – and we will see some other sights that Belgium has to offer and including Bruges.”

The lucky 45 are leaving from the City Space at 8pm on Friday, travelling through London to Bruges and Brussels. #####

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