The Epinal acquired an exclusive interview with East Midlands Green Party MEP candidate Katharina Boettge. She tells us what the EU is all about, why it desperately needs a shake up and why it has an important role to play in shaping our universities.
We are a less than a week away from an election and in the small, esoteric world of politics things are hotting up. Boettge tells me she has spent the last few weeks in hustings and as they draw to a close the media are now starting to do their rounds. For those inside the bubble it is an exciting time. Both UKIP and The Greens are posing an unprecedented threat to the establishment that could well shift the balance of power away from the main three parties.
But this is not a picture that the vast majority of students, indeed the vast majority of people, me included recognise. Indifference and a lack of understanding about how Europe works means the turnout for this election will undoubtedly be low.
Is voting a pointless decision?
“I don’t think so”, says Boettge.
“We all have a responsibility for ourselves and our future and for others in society; voting is part of this responsibility.
“I think, and this is me personally, that I would go out and spend an hour reading up to make that decision. There are ways how you can find out what party is most consistent with your views. You don’t have to read all the manifestos. There are a couple of websites that I think are really helpful. Votes for Policies for instance is a good site. You go on there and it gives you statements and you press the one you most agree with and then at the end it tells you which party you are most consistent with, because actually a lot of people vote for what they associate with a party but actually they don’t know what that party really stands for.
“A website like Vote for Policies gives you that tool to put your preconceptions aside and look at what these parties actually stand for and that takes you ten, fifteen minutes”.
Can the EU help to make qualifications more equal?
One problem that all countries across the world face as we increasingly become more globalised is making sure that the qualifications students need to get into university are valued equally. This is something the EU has already made progress with, but Boettge says it still needs more work and The Greens will fight for further reform.
“…there is still inequality and we need to work on this because it’s not ok that doctors from the Eastern European countries have qualifications that are sometimes not counted and so when they come to the UK and have to do conversion courses and that is just not ok.
“How dare we say that one university or one country is better than another and I think we agree that it all needs to be standardised and it’s not perfect yet at all. If you went to the USA your A-levels wouldn’t be worth as much as they are here so they do have the International Baccalaureate, but that is much more difficult than doing four A-levels [which isn’t fair]…we’re living in an international world and we need to make sure the education system fits to that”.
Another aspect of university education the EU is responsible for is the Erasmus exchange scheme. A few years ago the scheme ran out of money and The Greens want to make sure this can never happen again.
“…we need to sit down and review why the money was short exactly and then ensure that we get the money from somewhere else [to cover it]. There is a lot of money that could be saved for instance from the two seats that the EU has [The EU parliament is run in two buildings: one in Strasbourg, France and the other in Brussels, Belgium] and there is a lot of money going to a lot of other things, which I think is not appropriate. The money is there we just need to prioritise”.
The fight against tuition fees
The EU is also pushing for other countries to either introduce or increase their tuition fees, something the Green Party does not agree with:
“Students at the moment are facing a really tough challenge. You leave university with vast amounts of debts and there aren’t enough jobs out there and that is just not fair nor is it ok.
“I know this is more of a national point but education should be free. I know it costs something but the tax payer should carry the burden and hopefully if you leave university you get a good job and you can pay back (through the tax system) and if you don’t, you don’t”.
Is this push for tuition fees linked to the increasingly corporate culture that has been developing in our universities? Boettge’s not so sure but she is certainly against universities operating like businesses.
“I think that is just completely flawed. You see it with schools at the moment in the academies program and with universities: it is all about getting somebody employed and education should be about something else. Education should be about intellectual exploration and development in various areas. It should start broad and then of course people can specialise.
“It should also be about educating an individual to be part of society and to make democratic decisions, not just to get them employed and pay tax. It’s almost as if you’re just a robot. I think a sophisticated society…likes debate and exploration rather than just people being good at a tiny little bit which gets them a job. You could argue that that is done on purpose, that you keep the people away from what’s really going on.
“If you educate people thoroughly then people will become critical and that, again, is not in the interests of governments”.
The European elections are being held on Thursday May 22 from 07.00am to 22.00pm. There are over 20 polling stations in Loughborough including a station in room JJ018 at the university. You can find out your nearest polling station by checking your polling card that you should have received in the post.