AEGEE might face a drop in the num­ber of mem­bers. The rea­son is the decreas­ing num­ber of Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties. Only 55 cours­es are sched­uled to take place in 2018, com­pared to 65 last year and 75 two years ago. That’s a drop of 20 cours­es in just two years. The SUCT is try­ing to com­pen­sate it with a new type of sum­mer activ­i­ty of short­er dura­tion and less the­mat­ic require­ments, but it is yet to be seen whether this will be a mere band aid or a new strat­e­gy for a turn­around.

The cur­rent SU logo doesn’t reflect the aspect of tuition.

Prob­a­bly you are tired of peo­ple talk­ing about the “shrink­ing net­work”. There is some­thing close­ly con­nect­ed: the shrink­ing num­ber of Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties. Why is it dan­ger­ous? Well, the SUs are AEGEE’s most impor­tant recruit­ing tool. The Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty is *the* activ­i­ty that most peo­ple attend as their first big event.

From 4000 applicants to 2276 in four years

The cri­sis of AEGEE’s hall­mark event start­ed four years ago. In 2013 AEGEE still had around 4000 SU appli­cants — this was a typ­i­cal num­ber for Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties since the mid-90ies. In 2014 the num­ber dropped to 3312 and con­tin­ued to fall. Last year only 2276 peo­ple applied for a Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty – that’s 56% of the num­ber of appli­cants in 2013! One can only guess what hap­pens when there will be ten cours­es less this year.

Less and less antennae involved

Some more fig­ures? Here you are: In 2015, three years ago, the num­ber of SUs dropped to 68 – that was 12 less than in the pre­vi­ous year. The num­ber of 80 cours­es had actu­al­ly been quite sta­ble in the past decade. In 2016 the num­ber recov­ered and 75 cours­es were offered. Some peo­ple already claimed that the low num­ber of 68 in 2015 had just been a sta­tis­ti­cal excep­tion and there was no rea­son to pan­ic.

How­ev­er, those 75 cours­es were organ­ised by 101 anten­nae, com­pared to 100 the year before. Why is that sig­nif­i­cant? Well, the aver­age of the years before was around 115 SU organ­is­ing locals. In the mean­time also this num­ber decreased – this year only 86 anten­nae will be involved in an SU. Yes, the net­work is shrink­ing, but not as fast as the num­ber of SU organ­is­ing locals.

Consequences for the network

Pre­vi­ous­ly the logo reflect­ed the uni­ver­si­ty aspect.

The low­er num­ber of cours­es means less avail­able places. 1569 mem­bers can go to an SU this year – 320 less than last year. Con­sid­er­ing that return­ing SU par­tic­i­pants for the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of small­er locals, this is not a good sign for the devel­op­ment of the net­work and needs to be com­pen­sat­ed some­how.

There are many expla­na­tion attempts for the decreas­ing num­ber of offered cours­es in AEGEE’s most pres­ti­gious project:

  • The eco­nom­ic cri­sis in the South and East of Europe, which made it hard­er to organ­ise an SU, was men­tioned often in past years
  • Lack of organ­is­ing skills was also men­tioned

How­ev­er, the eco­nom­ic cri­sis is over, the economies in Europe are grow­ing sub­stan­tial­ly this year. And regard­ing skills: since the Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty Coor­di­na­tion Team (SUCT) offered more and short­er Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty Project Schools (SUPS), more peo­ple acquired organ­i­sa­tion­al knowl­edge. So how does this go togeth­er?

When it comes to the shrink­ing num­ber of appli­cants, there are also many the­o­ries:

  • Less cours­es offered means it’s hard­er to attract peo­ple
  • Increas­ing costs for SUs: in recent years the fees went up and in addi­tion there has been a spe­cif­ic lack of cheap­er cours­es. In this mat­ter the new short sum­mer cours­es that the SUCT is plan­ning might help
  • Dete­ri­o­rat­ing exchange rates to the Euro for exam­ple in Turkey and Ukraine made it hard­er to apply for peo­ple from some coun­tries
  • Change in soci­ety is a pop­u­lar expla­na­tion: young peo­ple got more indi­vid­u­al­is­tic and pre­fer to go on hol­i­days with their friends instead of join­ing a new asso­ci­a­tion
  • Drop in con­tent qual­i­ty is also a valid rea­son. If peo­ple can go to the beach with their friends, AEGEE has to offer more: lan­guages, skills, real lec­tures and work­shops on his­to­ry and cul­ture instead of a sim­ply excur­sion to old mon­u­ments
  • Wrong pro­mo­tion. AEGEE is under­selling itself. Some out­go­ing respon­si­bles tell poten­tial appli­cants that an SU us just about drinks, sun and fun – with­out focus­ing on con­tent, skills and inter­cul­tur­al knowl­edge that is to gain. Last year some par­tic­i­pants at one of the very few lan­guage course SU actu­al­ly com­plained about the class­es, because they just expect­ed sun and fun…

What can AEGEE do to make the turn­around? New SU types? Mak­ing 20 hours of tuition per week oblig­a­tory? Or a “stick and car­rot” approach? Mean­ing: giv­ing finan­cial incen­tives and hon­orary titles to qual­i­ty SUs (“Five Star Anten­na of 2018”) and minus points in the anten­na cri­te­ria if an SU doesn’t ful­fil its promis­es?

The per­fect exam­ple for an SU richt in con­tent: the TSU Via Egna­tia, organ­ised by AEGEE-Skop­je, AEGEE-Theesa­loni­ki and AEGEE-Istan­bul, was full of lec­tures, heat­ed dis­cus­sions, work­shops and mean­ing­ful excur­sions.

AEGEE needs a quality offensive

Let’s face it: the con­tent qual­i­ty of Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties is real­ly low today. Most of them actu­al­ly don’t deserve the word “uni­ver­si­ty”. 20 years ago most SUs had a real con­tent pro­gramme – and what is offered today as core pro­gramme was the leisure time pro­gramme back then. Alright, not every Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty in the past was a shin­ing exam­ple at all. But in gen­er­al the pro­gramme was rich­er in con­tent.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly AEGEE has the ten­den­cy to low­er its stan­dards and not to increase them. But that doesn’t help attract­ing the ide­al­is­tic mem­bers with a “can do” atti­tude that is nec­es­sary for the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the net­work.

Maybe it’s a start to check more thor­ough­ly the qual­i­ty of the events – and take action if the qual­i­ty is low. The pro­gramme item “Get­ting to know the cul­ture” sim­ply can­not mean a sim­ple excur­sion to a famous beach. The Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties need a qual­i­ty offen­sive now, when the project goes into its fourth decade.

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