AEC 70 Anniversary – Student Voice

Happy 70th Birthday, AEC!


Dear AEC,

I wish you a very happy birthday. If I can be bold to say, you have some excellent gifts: a vibrant and diverse membership, exceptional projects, impactful outcomes, a dedicated Council, and truly wonderful staff. 

Last weekend EPASA held its inaugural Conference and General Assembly – performing arts students gathered from across Europe to discuss and debate the future on many topics that matter to us all. As we celebrate this momentous milestone, I wish to reflect with you on the evolution of the student voice in HME; none of which would have been possible of course without you, the AEC.

It is my understanding that the student’s voice was formally invited to participate in AEC activities in 2014 with the beginning of the FULL SCORE project. The idea was to draw upon the fresh perspectives of emerging artistic professionals to “enrich the debate about the professional career field of music”. Six students were selected and formed the AEC Student Working Group: Ankna Arockiam, Sylvain Devaux, Ruth Fraser, Isabel Gonzalez Delgado, Angelina Konstantinou, and Saara Lindahl.

The first Student Working Group (SWG) spent these formative years doing three major things: learning about common issues affecting students, scoping the differing situations of student representation systems, and integrating themselves within the AEC’s various events and networks. The SWG did this with great success: they launched a handbook (“Increasing student voice in Higher Music Education institutions”) and a Manifesto. They were also given the opportunity at AEC events to provide the student with perspective on topics and propose subjects.

I asked Isabel Gondel to reflect on their impact: “I think that the main relevant thing was to make them all understand that students’ voices are valuable and that they can contribute equally from a different perspective for the enhancement of higher music education. AEC started to listen to students and that was the first great step done.” In three years this SWG laid excellent foundations for the next generation.

In 2017 the Strengthening Music in Society project launched and with it a new group of students: Roberto Boschelli, Isabel Gondel, Baptiste Grandgirard, Camilla Overgaard, and Siri Storheim, with Eline Accoe and I joining a year later. The second generation of the SWG was responsible for further integrating the student voice through their other working group, by supporting other students to mobilise locally and to explore the possible creation of an independent organisation.

What impact did we have? Concretely we tried to be agents of change by approaching social topics head-on through workshops, seminars, and panel discussions. We celebrated other students who had the courage to speak up, and we began to foster an international community of emerging artistic professionals – but the other impact we had was a cultural one:

“I would say that our work helped to flesh out and support this idea that putting students around the table in each institution, along with the administration and the teaching team, was not just a nice, progressive idea but pure pragmatism. How can you make a complex organisation like an institution of higher arts education work if you put aside its main organ, the very reason for its existence, namely the student body?”
- Baptiste Grandgirard.
“Most of the work promoted by the AEC has student voice at its core and this helped change people’s mindset about the role of students in today’s world. Student voice is now being heard and everybody lends an ear to what they say.”
- Roberto Boschelli
“AEC’s work builds bridges in mindset and connects from across positions within the HME ecosystem.”
- Isabel Gondel
“AEC has changed in these last years giving more and more space to students: having them at the table doesn't only mean giving an example of intergenerational dialogue and rethinking of power relations, but it can be an estimable source of insights.”
- Francesco Spina
“It is very valuable for the AEC and its members to be able to establish a peer-to-peer dialogue and to hear first-hand the concerns of students and what they have to say about their own education and future.”
- Guillermo Rodriguez
“In my experience, students dare to be bold and honest, which I think has been really important within AEC. By being present and constantly voicing our opinions, the student working group made themselves a huge asset for the organization, which now seems unthinkable to not have.”
- Siri Storheim

I also wish to briefly reflect on what impact the AEC has had on students in HME. For me, the biggest thing has been to give students the opportunity and space to connect, to inspire and be inspired, to mobilize, and to take ownership of their educational experiences. Without the AEC, EPASA would never have been created, and students wouldn’t have a space to protect and improve the arts and artistic education. 

On behalf of past and current student representatives, we have some gifts to give you – what we hope the student voice will look like in 70 years’ time:

“I hope and think that EPASA is going to grow into a strong organization, which will be a natural partner to AEC. I can imagine that the presence of this new organization will contribute to more of the AEC member institutions having well-functioning student representation systems. This will again make it easier for the AEC to communicate and recruit students.”
- Siri Storheim
“In 70 years, within the AEC ecosystem, I see EPASA as a channel for disseminating AEC's work to a large community of young artists: this includes events, publications, surveys, opportunities, advocacy work, campaigns.”
- Francesco Spina
“I really hope that this dialogue of equals will be further encouraged in the forums proposed by the AEC but also be taken to the national level and to the level of all member conservatoires of the organisation; that a tradition and habit of listening to and fully representing students in decision-making and how they can influence their own education is really created.”
- Guillermo Rodriguez
“I want the student voice to be an independent, diverse and fiery body that can fight against inequality, injustice and always advocate for a more accessible music education to future generations and the betterment of its members.”
- Roberto Boschelli
“I hope that we will always have the opportunity to [collectively] grow through travel, exchanges and openness to others.”
- Baptiste Grandgirard

Happy birthday, AEC. You have our deepest gratitude for your support in championing and platforming active student participation.

Here’s to the next 70 years with student partnership at the heart of everything.

Mimi Harmer, EPASA Vice-President
- Mimi Harmer, United Kingdom