SCiDEV and ESN Albania co-hosted an e-roundtable on youth engagement in European integration by focusing particularly on the digital mobility and online activism in post COVID-19 reality. Together with representatives from Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), National Erasmus+ Office in Albania, as well as participants from our networks of students, volunteers, young researchers, activists and professionals in research and development and civil society organisations we reflected on the ways in which youth mobility, engagement and activism are being transformed due to COVID19 and the rapid shift towards the digital world.

 It is obvious that the COVID19 pandemic has affected youth, essential in enhancing meaningful and genuine democratic and European integration processes, in many ways including education, mobility, and activism. Speakers and participants alike in the e-roundtable agreed that it is necessary to reassess youth position and role in the new ‘normality’ of post-COVID19 and to appreciate and promote their resilience, solidarity, innovative potential and engagement in public life. Considering the challenges and uncertainties ahead, it is even more crucial to have an enabling environment for youth, to create space and empower them to engage in public life and in decision making processes.

In this light, Mr Adem Gashi, Western Balkans Youth Lab Project Team Leader, Regional Cooperation Council, pointed out the need to engage youth in co-designing of policies and support their innovative ideas and solutions to current challenges. Policy documents are now living documents which require frequent updates and above all this requires involvement of youth in designing solutions. Mr. Gashi presented the Youth Lab Project, as a regional initiative of the RCC supported by the European Union. The region would gain by further involvement of youth and will contribute also to the EU process.

In the same line, Mr. Fatos Mustafa, Deputy Secretary General of Regional Youth Cooperation Office – RYCO emphasized the complex nature of the EU integration and the essential role of youth engagement as well as the importance of regional mobility to reconciliation. He also expressed concern regarding the latest nationalism narratives in the region hindering reconciliation and collaboration. Mr. Mustafa particularly underlined the risk of further marginalisation of youth in the new online reality considering the digital divide and issues of access and skills. Coordination and synergies between different youth groups, CSOs and social groups and other actors that work on youth related issues is a must to ensure impact and to avoid overlapping and duplication.

Dr. Erida Curraj, from the National Albanian Erasmus + Office stressed the challenges of university students and universities during the pandemic and highlighted the need for capacity building for both students and academics to cope with the new reality. Blended learning and blended mobility are now our new reality and universities must engage in reflective and capacity building processes to successfully manage the digital transformation within higher education.

Ms Lutjona Lula, from ESN Albania explained challenges and efforts of international students during COVD19 in Albania and emphasised the role of ESN in networking students and supporting them with soft skills and non formal education. She urged the European Union Delegation to continue its initiative of structured dialogue with youth groups and organisations particularly regarding the European integration process.

 Rasmus Benke Aberg, Director of Erasmus Student Network International presented findings of the European-wide study on Mobility and Covid19 recommending the importance of actual physical mobility for students. This was echoed by Silvia Tosku, UET student and ESN Volunteer, who brought the youth perspective and her personal experience on how physical mobility (such as Erasmus+ Exchange) helps to break stereotypes and foster cooperation.

Dr. Blerjana Bino, Co-Founder of SCiDEV, pointed out that in view of the COVID19 pandemic and the digital transformation in higher education and civil society, the concepts of mobility, engagement and activism are being redefined. With virtual reality becoming part of learning, it is almost impossible to escape from the digital, however, it is crucial to develop youth skills and empower them to be proactive, exert their rights and contribute to their communities and to public life. SCiDEV and ESN Albania will continue their efforts in supporting youth through networking, capacity building, access to resources and awareness raising campaigns and are open and keen to collaborate with others in the same area.

If you could not join, watch the full video here.