The College of Europe has spoken out in response to criticism of the elite Bruges university, explaining that while it regrets news of students breaking coronavirus measures, ultimately the pupils have a ‘personal responsibility’ to follow the measures themselves.
Since September, the police has had to intervene a reported 14 times because of coronavirus measure violations concerning the College, with a total of 35 official reports issued, earning the school the name of “party palace” from the mayor and media alike.
“We regret that a few students have organised or participated in activities which do not comply with public health measures,” the College said in a press statement. “All students have an individual personal responsibility to follow those measures strictly and fully,” it added.
Parties organised by students at other universities fall outside the framework of the university itself, but as the College of Europe students all live together in the school’s residences, any violations see the school facing heat too.
Catering primarily to older students with an average age of 25 years old, graduates often go on to positions of power and influence in international politics and policy, with its own materials touting it “has produced many government leaders.”
“Our alumni mostly pursue careers of responsibility in Europe and beyond both in the public as private sector,” the website explains. “So not only the EU institutions, foreign services, national administrations and international organisations are primary offsets of our alumni but more and more develop their profession in consultancy, business, media, think tanks and civil society.”
Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad, one anonymous student doubled down on the stance that it was only a few students causing the commotion. “I cannot speak for others. But let’s be clear: most of them just behave as they should”
To the city of Bruges, however, these rule-breaking students are starting to impact the reputation of the college.
Destroying the name and fame of the college
“We used to be very proud of ‘our’ College of Europe as city council and population,” Bruges Mayor Dirk De fauw told De Morgen. “This is where the future leaders of Europe take lessons.”
“Now, however, these students are destroying the name and fame of the college by throwing parties. They have to comply with the coronavirus measures much more strictly,” he said.
On Monday, De fauw discussed the measures with the board of directors of the College, similar to what he had already done in September after a cluster of over 50 students sent the whole school into quarantine.
Police too are growing tired of the situation, while the tension with the students is causing a lot of misunderstanding and frustration in Bruges, as the police are getting tired of the partying College students, according to reports.
As it stands, the College has announced it will take measures, such as closing all common spaces in the residences, organising meetings with the student leaders and a virtual meeting with rector Federica Mogherini. The school will also continue to discuss the situation with the mayor.
The public prosecutor’s office is now looking into which students have been reported by the police multiple times, with punishments that can include fines of up to €4,000 and even prison sentences.
The measures outlined above are, for now, the full extent the college has announced at this time. With the approaching Holiday season, the majority of students across Belgium will return home, with only 40 opting to stay.
Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston The Brussels Times
This article has been updated to include comments from a press statement by College of Europe